Muscatine Journal                                                             March 05, 2014 9:00 pm  •  


MUSCATINE, Iowa — It’s always a tough decision to put down a pet you love, but it’s even harder when that best friend has also been in the line of fire with you.

Cpl. Dan Grafton of the Muscatine Police Department made the choice last week to have his K9 partner, a 3-year-old German shepherd named Zarik, put to sleep. Zarik suffered from an incurable kidney disease.

“It was probably the hardest decision I’ve ever had to make. I was just really close to him,” said Grafton. “He’s more than just a partner — he’s a friend.”

Cpl. Grafton and Zarik were previously the only K9 unit in the department. Dogs in the K9 Unit assist with drug busts, locating missing persons and chasing down a suspect.

Grafton said it was during a dental cleaning for Zarik in January that led to the discovery of Zarik's disease. The vet decided to hold off on the cleaning after pre-operation blood tests came back with concerning results. In the weeks that followed, Zarik went through more testing, urine samples, ultrasounds and biopsies of his kidneys.

“We found out that it was in fact a kidney disease called renal dysplasia. It’s an incurable kidney disease that he was born with,” said Grafton.

The police department purchased Zarik in February 2012 when he was a year old for about $8,000 from the Vohne Liche Kennels in Denver, Ind. The facility specifically breeds German shepherds and Belgian Malinois for military and police use. Grafton and Zarik then completed a 10-week training course in Springfield, Ill.

“It’s a lot of time, a lot of effort and a lot of responsibility. First you have to put in for it. You’re gonna put your heart and soul into it because you have to love doing it,” said Grafton. He explained that an officer has to request to be part of the K9 Unit, pick the dog, then complete a six- to 10-week training program. Once home, the dog not only works with its handler, but lives with the officer as well.

“Not only that, you take that responsibility to work. If you get him out of the car for anything, you’re responsible for what he does. When they’re calling and saying ‘this guy just took off running, we need the dog,’ well do you let the dog out to run after him? How old are they? What crime did they commit? Is it serious enough to let a dog bite them? It’s a serious decision and you have to live with that decision — it’s all on you.”

Grafton said that just because he was part of the K9 Unit didn’t mean he had any special assignments, but the team was always on call.

He did have one benefit over other officers, though. He always had a partner on hand for backup. Muscatine officers aren’t partnered, but for Grafton, his dog was always with him and ready for action, Zarik was inside the car when Grafton wasn't. Grafton had a button on his belt that would pop open the vehicle door to let Zarik out if situations were becoming confrontational or dangerous.

“There were plenty of times if I was arresting somebody and it started getting a little crazy or hands-on; he’d be barking like crazy wanting to come help. The loyalty is what’s best about it. They’re loyal to you and all they care about is pleasing you.”

But despite that loyalty and friendship, Grafton said it was still necessary to think of Zarik as a tool instead of a pet — something that's not always easy.

“Sometimes that was hard for me but you really have to put that in the back of your mind. He’s there to protect you and the other officers. You might have to send him into the line of fire.”

What's next?

The Department will choose a new dog at the end of March but a different officer will be the handler this time around. Grafton passed on the opportunity since, at the time the department decided it would need a new team, he hadn’t known how progressive Zarik’s condition would be. Near the end, Zarik was on anti-nausea medication and fluids daily.

“He didn’t live a full, happy life. To see him get that bad, it was tough. I tried to keep him as long as I could but at some point you have to decide.”

Grafton said the hardest part about losing Zarik is getting used to getting ready for work and not seeing him there, getting excited to put on his work collar.

Zarik was cremated and Grafton said he will keep Zarik’s work collar and his favorite toy. In the future, Grafton might consider another round with the K9 Unit.

“Near the end he was getting really weak and didn’t bark anymore and didn’t want to do anything but he saw that ball and that’s the only thing that got him excited and wagging his tail so I’m keeping that,” said Grafton.

Grafton went in with Zarik when it was time for him to be put down. “He stuck with me through everything, so I stuck with him all the way through to the end.”

©2018 Iowa State Police Association • All Rights Reserved