IN THE LINE OF duty
California K-9 gets back to work after recovering from gunshot injury
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.”
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.”