Eye of the Tyler: Charleston County Sheriff’s Office loses former K-9 deputy, family member

  • Tuesday, January 29, 2013

The Charleston County Sheriff’s Office K-9 unit is used by many jurisdictions. All dogs have handlers with whom they work. The dogs also live with their handlers and their families.

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As a member of the media, I receive a lot of sad emails everyday.

Shootings, robberies, hit-and-run accidents, various hospitalizations...you get the point. Then, came one particularly rough email from the Charleston County Sheriff’s Office: a message that a K-9 officer had died.

Here’s the email in its entirety below, signed by Major Jim Brady:

“On January 16, 2013, retired Charleston County Sheriff’s Office K-9 Terry passed away due to complications after surgery. He was 13 years old. K-9 Terry served the Sheriff’s Office from 2004 until his retirement in 2010. During this time, K-9 Terry was instrumental in numerous drug and weapons seizures, as well as money seizures tied to drug transactions.

“Terry was an invaluable member of the Charleston County Sheriff’s Office K-9 unit and remained with his handler after retirement. Terry was taken to Faithful Forever Pet Cremation, McAlister Smith after his passing. Consolidated Dispatch aired a final call for K-9 Terry during transport.

“The Charleston County Sheriff’s Office K-9 unit is comprised of six deputies, two supervisors and 12 canines capable of scent tracking, article searches, as well as drug and explosive detection.”

Let me point something that stood out to me. Brady, like us media folks, doesn’t normally use many adjectives – if any – in his writing. Just present the facts and let readers make their own inferences. That’s our job.

Yet, there were phrases like “instrumental” and “invaluable” used in this news release. That’s because animals are different. Not just in the literal sense, though.

I knew nothing of Terry before this, which is probably a good thing, because that would have meant I had been in some trouble.

I have never had personal connections with any of the people arrested and charged in other news releases that Brady sends. When those pop into my email inbox, I skim quickly and often feel no emotion other than a “what a jerk” thought running through my head – should that person indeed be guilty of the charge.

But, when I read the news of Terry’s passing from my phone, I stopped what I was doing. No more multi-tasking. I read the message twice, for a reason I’m unsure of. Maybe I was hoping to read Terry was recovering after surgery, and not that he had left us for heaven (the movie “All Dogs Go to Heaven” is definitely factual, top to bottom).

Dogs shouldn’t be allowed to die, right? It’s inevitable for humans, but dogs aren’t like you and me.

A dog’s worst behavior includes chewing up a shoe, so why must they be subject to the same pangs of humans, who – including me – would be better off sharing more traits of dogs.

Those rhetorical questions are just that: rhetorical. Our loyal, furry friends will leave us, and the best way to describe that is that it just sucks.

At the Charleston County Sheriff’s Office K-9 facility in North Charleston, Sgt. Jimmy Brennan described Terry as a dog who loved rolling around in mud and would chase water bottles. “We used to have a lot of fun with that dog,” he said.

Brennan repeatedly said that he and the other handlers of K-9 deputies have the best jobs in the Sheriff’s Office.

“It’s a serious game, but that’s all it is to the dogs,” Brennan said. He described the dogs, who are mostly German Shepherds and all males like Terry, as highly trained deputies performing tasks demanded of them by their handlers.

They’re not flesh-eating animals. If their owner asks them to bark to help disperse a crowd, the dog will bark, because he wants his toy. That’s all there is to it.

They’re known as full-patrol dogs, capable in narcotics, article and area searches and tracking.

Terry was Brennan’s dog for about a year until Brennan gave him to Deputy Jay Zealberg, because Brennan took on more of a “problem dog” named Nitro. Brennan received a hyper Nitro and “within a few months, he was where he needed to be,” he said of his full-time partner and part-time pet.

“Terry was one of the best narcotic dogs I’ve seen, because he was so methodical,” he said. “He would check everything... Zealberg did very well training that dog.”

The surgery Brady referred to in the news release was a surgery to remove Terry’s tail after it had become infected, Brennan said.

The dogs are shipped to the United States for law enforcement duty around 1-2 years old, because they’ve matured and show personality. American vendors, according to Brennan, go overseas to get the dogs. The most popular places are Germany, Czech Republic and Holland.

Dogs are tested with various activities that measure courage, including responses to slick floors, gunshots and confined spaces. Without any prior training, they cost about $6,500 and with training, a dog could cost $11,000 and up, according to Brennan.

The cost covers medical treatments, flights to the United States, warranties and the bloodline of the dog family. Dogs overseas in those countries do not have multiple litters like in America, Brennan explained, so when United States law enforcement purchases dogs as deputies, they’re likely also buying an entire bloodline. “It’s a better quality dog,” he said.

Once they arrive in the United States, the four-legged officers undergo training courses for 3-4 months before becoming active duty. Even when all the tests are passed, dogs receive about eight hours of training per week and some sort of practice every day.

Around 9 years old, the dogs are typically retired. Not every retirement date is exact, but Brennan said the Sheriff’s Office wants the dogs to retire in good health and still have years left to be a normal pet.

“Terry was 13, so he had a very good family life after that (service),” he said.

Brennan emphasized that the dogs are part of their respective handler’s family. “All of my dogs I’ve been able to come home and it’s like a switch,” he said. “They know, ‘I’m home. I’m this lovable puppy and you can do what you want with me.’ My kids put hats and sunglasses (on Nitro).”

Although Brennan gave Terry to Zealberg, he still saw Terry every day. “Our dogs always played together. Most police dogs don’t get along with other police dogs, because they’re alpha and all feel that they’re the boss,” he said. “These two didn’t care about it.”

Rest in peace, Terry.

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