In Loving Memory of K9 Harlej, Killed in the Line of Duty
Last night, was the night as a K9 handler you train your heart for but are never truly ready.
I lost my K9 partner Harlej early this morning doing what he loved.
My memories of him are just pure joy and happiness. He was the most dedicated, hard-working, and always in relentless pursuit of everything we did.
Nobody will ever know the time it takes for a K9 to be successful. But everyone will see the successes and we had a lot of successes together.
Harlej and I spent countless hours together in the nearly 5 years I had him. I think about all the hours of training we had and the countless hours we spent together in the car driving around Fishers.
I think about all the men and women who played a role in making him great and great he was!
Harlej and I assisted in a lot of arrests and helped get a lot of bad people off of the streets to help keep the city of Fishers safe.
I will always remember how quiet Harlej was in my car, but at the same time remembering every time that I got out of my car and could see his glowing eyes staring at me with his ears up high. He always waited to be called and was ready to do whatever I asked of him. Harlej did it without fear. I knew every time I got him out of my car, he was going to help every time. Whether that was to find drugs during a walk around or tracking down a fleeing felon.
I know you’re chewing on some tennis balls right now buddy. Daddy loves you and I’m so glad you were my partner and in my life.
Love you Hars!
You are a REAL hero today, buddy. And you saved our lives last night.
OFFICER JARRED KOOPMAN
Fishers Police Department
On March 15, 2017, at approx. 5:40 PM I was training my K9 partner Jelka an all-black Belgian Malinois who was 2 years old at this time. I was working on obedience and rewarding her with her favorite toy, a ball. We were approx. 50 yards away from the road when I tossed the ball to reward her. As Jelka was running to retrieve the ball she hit it with her nose causing the ball to shoot out in front of her. She continued to chase the ball as it rolled into the street. As Jelka was approaching the ball she was hit by a Ford F-150. I can still hear the sound as if it was yesterday. I came running around the corner and I saw my partner running to me with her back left leg bone sticking out and the bottom half of her leg hanging on by a vein.
As I stood there in shock for what seemed like forever I was able to snap out of it long enough to pick her up and place her in my patrol vehicle. When placing her in the back I had to lay her on top of me and slid out from underneath her because she was unable to stand. I knew I had to get her to an emergency vet fast or I would lose her.
On our way to the vet, I could hear Jelka breathing as if she was choking on her own blood. Once I arrived at the vet I ran inside and I remember saying with tears in my eyes, “I need help, my partner is dying”. Praise the Lord, he put some amazing people there that day. They ran out without any hesitation and I picked Jelka up and placed her on the stretcher. As they were wheeling her back to the emergency room Jelka’s heart stopped beating. The surgeon cut open her chest and started to massage her heart for approx. 1 minute until it started beating again. I didn’t find this information out until a few months later.
After multiple surgeries, the vet came out to speak with me and my beautiful wife. They said Jelka is stable for now but the next 24-48 hours would be critical. Around hour 37, I received a phone call from the vet saying I might need to make funeral arguments because they were pulling 500 ML of air out of Jelka’s chest tube and they weren’t sure if they could find where it was coming from. After more surgeries and by the grace of God, the vet found a hole in one of the lobes in her lung. They removed that lobe and once again they told me the next 24-48 hours would be critical. Once we made it passed hour 48 we weren’t out of the woods yet.
Once the internal organs were taken care of it was now time to move onto the leg. Remember the left leg was hanging on by a vain with the bone sticking out. The vets didn’t want to do anything with the leg until they knew Jelka was stable. This was a stressful day also because the vets weren’t sure if they were going to be able to save the leg with all the damage it sustained. Once again God and the vets came through and they saved the leg. They had to fuse it together with nine screws and one long metal plate, but they said she’d be able to walk again as long as her body didn’t reject the screws or plate.
99 days later Jelka was released to full duty with no restrictions. Jelka continues to improve every single day and shows me and everyone else how strong you can be if you put your trust in God.
Since being released Jelka has had multiple drug seizures and has tracked a handful of suspects who’ve committed various crimes. She is truly the power of prayer.
I would like to thank MedVet, Zionsville Animal Hospital, The Town of Zionsville and everyone who supported us with their donations and prayers.
K9 CORPORAL JOSHUA STUTESMAN
Zionsville Police Department
Every day is the same for him. Same car, same words, same surroundings. You would think that with all of the routine it wouldn’t be exciting anymore. You would think that staying in an air-conditioned car would be more comfortable, but that has never been the case. You see…this is his school, these are all his schools. He takes great pride in making sure each one of them is safe and drug-free.
As soon as I open the car door he knows where we are and what his job is. We walk in the door and he turns to me, with excitement in his eyes, he is ready to hear me say: “Are you in your school?” He knows this is his school, he knows the staff and students want him here, but most importantly he knows what his job is, and is highly trained for it. It is what he lives for!
In the spring of 2013, Brownsburg Community School Corporation made history by being the 1 st school district in the state of Indiana to have a full time, narcotics detection K9 on campus. Students have been taught at an early age to “Say No to Drugs,” but as they get older their social circle gets larger and they may test the waters of independence. With these changes come exposures to new situations which then brings additional challenges. Brownsburg Schools wanted to invest in the safety of their staff and students but also wanted to give students just one more reason to be able to say “NO!” to drugs. That investment would become my K9 partner, Zeus.
Zeus was introduced to staff and students in May of 2013. If you walk the halls of any Brownsburg school with Zeus and me, you will see how welcome he is. There are always several kids calling his name and many more kids saying “Awe!!” and countless smiles when they see him.
Zeus is so much a part of the culture and environment of Brownsburg High School that his picture was placed in the staff section of the yearbook and many staff members keep dog treats at their desk so when Zeus gets a break he can go to them for a treat.
K9 Officers spend a lot of time in training. At first, it was Zeus that needed the training but I quickly learned that the more challenging student is always the one at the other end of the leash. I was the one who needed to watch for the subtle changes in his body language, the head throw at the mere whiff of a scent that was exiting a closed car door or the passing odor emanating from a backpack in the hallway. Once I was trained though, we were a great team!
I often wonder how empty my patrol vehicle would be without Zeus. There are nose prints on my windows, dog hair throughout the entire car and after several lessons learned, I always store my lunch bag in the trunk. There are times when I look down at my uniform and see spots of dog slobber or smudges from dirty paws. There are also times when he rests his head on my shoulder and looks up at me like I am his whole world. Those are the moments that I live for.
In Brownsburg, we are all proud to be a Bulldog! We are #BulldogTough and #BulldogProud, but no matter how much of a true Bulldog fan I am, Zeus will always be my #TopDog.
~Officer Kim Kiritschenko
It was a bright sunny August afternoon with the temperature pushing 90 degrees and virtually no breeze. Sitting in a dry creek bed, wearing the equivalent of five winter coats, I could feel the sweat dripping down my face as I heard the dog rapidly approaching. I would like to tell you that all the sweat was from the heat and humidity and none of it was from fear. I would like to tell you that I wasn’t nervous about the large German Shepherd barreling down on me, but both would be a lie. After what seemed like forever the dog came through the brush, clamped his teeth firmly around my arm, and began to drag me backwards up the bank where the handler was able to “take me into custody”. I got about 30 seconds to try and cool off with whatever breeze came my way before it was back into the creek bed to play Hide-and-Go-Bite with 7 more dogs. This was my introduction to K9.
From the beginning of my law enforcement career, I was fascinated by watching the K9s work. They all seemed to have such an intense drive to work no matter what they were doing. Even chasing a ball around a field was done with a mix of determination and joy, as though nothing in the world mattered more than catching and biting that fuzzy yellow ball. These dogs looked nothing like the German Shepherds I had at home who would chase after a squirrel but would give up as soon as it was out of reach. Shortly into my career, I knew I wanted to be a K9 handler for the department, so I started attending the monthly county-wide training days to watch and learn more about how these dogs worked. What started out as a way to try and learn from the sidelines quickly evolved into me volunteering to be the decoy and letting all the dogs bite me during the different scenarios (starting with that dry creek bed). To this day, I think I have learned more about the way working dogs operate by being in a bite suit than anything else I have done.
Going back to that hot August afternoon: once I had been found by the last dog and it was time to get out of the bite suit, I was dripping in sweat. I sat down on the ground in the shade and desperately tried to cool off. While drinking bottle after bottle of water I noticed that the dogs who had been placed back into air-conditioned vehicles after the track were also still panting heavily when the handlers got them out for a round of obedience or just a quick potty break. I didn’t fully realize it at the time, but I would later come to understand just how hard these dogs work and how much energy they bring to each task they perform.
When I was selected to be a handler for the department, I was taught in Handler’s School to pay attention to your dog when out working: to be ready to pick up on when the dogs give an alert, but just as important is the fact that oftentimes these dogs will work until they drop. One of the most important things to do as a handler is to know when to safely stop the dog and return them to a place they can cool down and rest. It is in these dogs’ nature to keep going until they physically cannot go any further. This trait is why we choose them to do what they do, and it is what we love about them.
Like professional athletes who have pushed themselves throughout their careers, by the time these dogs are ready to retire they are often feeling the impact of their years of service. Even in retirement or near the end of their lives, these dogs still want to give everything they do 110%. They may be a little gray around the muzzle and a little slower, but they dig deep to find that youthful drive, and now it is even more important that we keep a watchful eye on them.
Please consider donating to the Shadow Fund to help and support these dogs who have left it all on the field. By helping to assist with the high cost of medical care that is typically needed with retired K9s, the Shadow Fund allows these dogs to live out the remainder of their lives in relative comfort and receive the treatments they need without creating an undue financial burden for their handlers.
–Deputy Nate Hibschman
Hendricks County Sheriff’s Office
We sat on the cold concrete floor together. His brown, milky eyes looked up at me above a weathered gray muzzle. His ear was wrinkled and folded over from past hematomas and as he panted, I could see the teeth he had left were worn down to his gums. If anyone else had seen him for the first time they would have thought he was 20 years old. This was the first time I had really noticed what a decade of police work had done to his body. He was my first canine partner, Hunter, a sable German Shepherd Dog with large bone structure and a prey drive that never went away, no matter how many years had gone by. We had worked together for 7 years and together for almost 10. On that day, at his 12 years of age, in his retirement, we waited in a small beige exam room at the emergency veterinary hospital.
The ordeal began earlier in the evening. He was acting lethargic and wasn’t interested in eating food. I noticed his stomach was swollen and took him to our local vet. A quick X-ray revealed fluid in his abdomen and an abnormal looking spleen. We then went to the emergency vet where we waited for a doctor to be called in to run an ultrasound. When the doctor finally arrived, I muzzled him up and they took him into the tiny ultrasound room. He wasn’t interested in cooperating with the medical staff and they were unable to control him. When I entered the room, a calmness came over him and he allowed them to perform the ultrasound. I finally carried him back to the exam room after they finished and waited for the news, I knew would be bad.
Hunter had a large tumor on the spleen that had ruptured and he was bleeding to death. I was offered three choices – euthanasia, take him home with pain medication to ease the suffering until he passed on his own, or an expensive surgery to remove the spleen which might not be successful. Even if the surgery did work there was no guarantee how long he would last after recovery. If you’ve ever had a pet, let alone a working dog, you know there wasn’t really a choice at all. The only option was surgery, there was no way I would give up on him. After all, he had never given up on me or anyone in the community we served.
Fortunately, there was funding in place to help pay for the surgery in addition to a discount offered by the hospital for police dogs. I could focus my time on his recovery and remaining time with us, instead of how to cover such a large expense. But most handlers aren’t that lucky. Most have to cover 100% of the cost of their retired dogs. That’s where you come into the picture. You can help retired working dogs by allowing them to continue enjoying their life. After they’ve given their all to serve each and every one of us, we can give back. Please consider donating to the shadow fund, so these dogs can trade dollars for days.
If you’re wondering what happened to Hunter, he had a fantastic recovery. He was initially supposed to stay in the hospital three days for recovery. However, they released him after one day because he was doing so well. He came home and spent his last year doing and eating whatever he wanted to.
— Thomas Owens
K-9 Patrol Sergeant
Avon Police Department
Hunter’s Retirement Ceremony