PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) – Few civilians understand the bond law enforcement officers have with their K-9 companions. They consider them fellow officers, friends, and members of the family.
On Tuesday, dozens of K-9 officers gathered to pay tribute to those fallen heroes. The ceremony took place at the Curlew Hills Memory Gardens Pet Cemetery, where 77 dogs have been interred.
Two of Officer Robert Pease’s partners are resting there including K-9 Ilaj.
“You’ve got to remember this dog is in charge of protecting your life. If it isn’t for that dog, you’re not finding people,” said Pease. “And if something bad happens, he’s there to protect you.”
At this year’s memorial service, four K-9’s were added to the memorial and were remembered.
Officer Joan Haaf traveled from Missouri for the memorial. She is currently a K-9 officer for the University of Missouri Police Department but was the first female K-9 officer for the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office when she took that role back in 1982.
For Officer Haaf, this was an emotional visit.
“They placed two plaques for my first two working dogs,” said Haaf, as tears began to roll down her cheek. “They were my partners. (crying) excuse me. They’re your partners. They’re friends, they’re family, they’re your partners.”
Officer Pease believes in many ways, officers are closer to the animals than even their own family members.
“And they’re with you 24-7. They’re with you more than your family. You’re at home with them and you’re at work with them for ten hours. The things you go through with these dogs,” said Pease. “They protect your life.”
Clearwater Police Sgt. Tom Rodgers is only learning about that strong bond now. After more than two decades in law enforcement, he is the department’s newest K-9 officer, who’s now in training.
“23-years of doing this… I know about law enforcement pretty well,” said Rodgers. “But I don’t know anything about these dogs but that’s exciting to learn.”
Rodgers says he’s embracing his new partner, and his new role with the department.
“Definitely have a new relationship with a new partner, it’s a life change for home,” said Rodgers. “Obviously for the career.”