IN THE LINE OF duty

Cal­i­for­nia K-9 gets back to work af­ter re­cov­er­ing from gun­shot in­jury

Albuquerque Journal - - FETCH - BY BRIANNA CALIX

AFresno County, Calif., Sher­iff’s K-9 of­fi­cer has re­turned to ser­vice about four months af­ter a gun­shot wound to his paw caused brief un­cer­tainty if he’d be able to work again.

But Mikey, a 6½-year-old Dutch Shep­herd, suc­cess­fully per­formed all the tasks he pre­vi­ously was trained in with­out show­ing signs of his in­jury — and with two fewer toes.

Mikey was as­sist­ing the sher­iff’s of­fice SWAT team serve a search war­rant in July when he was at­tacked by another dog. The dog bit Mikey in his face and had hold of him by the neck. Deputies shot the vi­cious dog so it would re­lease its grip on Mikey, but the bul­let passed through the an­i­mal and hit Mikey in his front right paw.

His han­dler, Deputy Jerry Kitchens, saw Mikey’s paw “ex­plode” as it was hit by the bul­let. He swooped up the dog quickly and be­gan ap­ply­ing pres­sure to stop the bleed­ing, car­ry­ing Mikey to a med­i­cal team so he could be taken to an an­i­mal hos­pi­tal.

“At the mo­ment, I was in work mode,” Kitchens re­called re­cently be­fore Mikey per­formed in the sher­iff’s of­fice’s rou­tine monthly train­ing ses­sions. “I knew that I had to im­me­di­ately re­move him from the sit­u­a­tion and get him med­i­cal treat­ment. Once the day started wind­ing down, that’s when the emo­tions started to set in. That’s when I ob­vi­ously knew he prob­a­bly wouldn’t re­turn to work. It was like a punch in the gut, very dis­heart­en­ing.”

Ini­tially, vet­eri­nar­i­ans thought they’d have to am­pu­tate Mikey’s leg. But they were able to sal­vage his leg dur­ing surgery so the dog lost only two toes in­stead.

Kitchens de­scribed the bond be­tween a K-9 and its han­dler as one sim­i­lar to a par­ent’s bond with a child. Re­turn­ing to work with­out Mikey was tough, he said.

Mikey lives with Kitchens and his fam­ily. “He is a very so­cial, lov­ing dog,” Kitchens said. “He’s just like any­body else’s fam­ily pet. You would not know he’s a ser­vice an­i­mal. He’s very so­cial, he’s great with kids, he’s great with other peo­ple.”

Now, Mikey will go back to work as an ap­pre­hen­sion K-9 of­fi­cer. K-9 of­fi­cers such as Mikey also play a cru­cial role in re­cov­er­ing ev­i­dence and search­ing for and res­cu­ing miss­ing peo­ple.

Mike has worked with the sher­iff’s of­fice along­side Kitchens for three years.

The same day Mikey re­turned to work, a K-9 of­fi­cer work­ing for Kings County Sher­iff’s Of­fice was shot.

Dash, a 2-year-old Bel­gian Mali­nois, was shot by a mur­der sus­pect af­ter a car chase ended out­side of Han­ford. Sher­iff’s of­fi­cials said 43-year-old Juan “Johnny” Cas­tro fired at least one shot, which struck Dash, be­fore a Han­ford po­lice of­fi­cer, Dash’s han­dler and one other deputy re­turned fire, killing Cas­tro.

Dash was flown by a Cal­i­for­nia High­way Pa­trol he­li­copter to a Fresno ve­teri­nar­ian hos­pi­tal, where he un­der­went surgery to re­move the bul­let and its de­bris and close his wound. He re­turned home re­cently.

Dr. Car­rie Strick­land of Vet­eri­nary Emergency Ser­vice on Fresno Street said it will take six to eight weeks for Dash’s wound to heal, a tricky pe­riod where he must stay still.

“His han­dlers are very de­voted to his re­cov­ery, as are we,” Strick­land said.

Kitchens, who works for Fresno County, said he feels for Dash and his han­dler. “If you were to see your child get hurt, that’s the feel­ing that we have,” he said. “I know what he’s go­ing through.”

Kings County has not iden­ti­fied Dash’s han­dler while the depart­ment in­ves­ti­gates the of­fi­cer­in­volved shoot­ing. The sher­iff’s of­fice in a state­ment called Dash a hero who “un­doubt­edly saved the lives of deputies and of­fi­cers on the scene.”

His han­dler de­scribed Dash as groggy and in re­cov­ery mode with “big puppy-dog eyes,” the Kings County Sher­iff’s Of­fice said.

Dash has worked for the Kings County Sher­iff’s Of­fice since May. It’s too early to tell if he will re­turn to work, but Strick­land is hope­ful he will have a full re­cov­ery.

“I think he’s go­ing to have a very quiet Christ­mas this year,” she said. “Hope­fully he can get back to work in 2018.”

CRAIG KOHLRUSS/FRESNO BEE

K-9 Mikey is back on duty with the Fresno County Sher­iff’s Depart­ment af­ter re­cov­er­ing from an ac­ci­den­tal shoot­ing in­jury. INSET: Mikey’s right front paw shows miss­ing toes af­ter he was shot dur­ing a call in July.

Fresno County Sher­iff’s Deputy Jerry Kitchens, right, works with his K-9 Mikey as trainer Rick John­son watches. Mikey lives with Kitchens and his fam­ily, who de­scribes him as “a very so­cial, lov­ing dog.”

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