By Rebecca Frankel
Best Defense Chief Canine Correspondent
On May 29, 2013, one of the handlers in the Plymouth Police Working Dog Foundation posted news that his canine partner, Kaiser, a two-and-a-half year old German Shepherd had been diagnosed with kidney disease. Kaiser had "battled this disease with vigor and toughness," the likes of which his handler Plymouth Police patrolman Jamie Lebretton had never seen before. But alas "the disease has taken the upper hand forcing him out of his craft and ultimately out of this world." It was a gut-wrenching choice for Lebretton, but he decided that his dog was suffering undeservedly and two days later they would be putting Kaiser to sleep.
The notices (and the story) that then unfolded on the stream of this Facebook page were as personally raw as they were moving to read, even though this happened more than six months ago.
On May 31, 2013:
End of Watch
Then sometime later that day, Lebretton posted this message:
"RIP my boy. I could not have asked for a better partner or friend. May you rest easy and wait for me at that sacred bridge. I will be there my friend. I will be there. I will never forget you or our accomplishments. You made me a better person, a better handler, and a better cop. Till we meet again kai. I love you and will miss you daily.
...And to my boys and blue. Never in my career have i ever been so proud. You out did yourselves today. I could not have asked for a better send off. Kaiser truly was part of the department and loved being a police dog. My fellow K-9 handlers, you are a cut above and showed everyone what being a handler is all about...our pups. I thank each of you and you have my respect forever.
...Lastly, to all of you who sent your regards over the past few days...I thank you. I read every single post and listened to every message. Kaiser served you well and the streets of Plymouth were safer when he was on patrol. The compassion was overwhelming and i am humbled at the support from perfect strangers."
Lebretton's humble thanks perhaps bely the true range the impact Kaiser's parting had made. By June 1, 2013, the department posted that they had received condolences from: "the great people of Plymouth, MA ... throughout the USA and even Ireland, Afghanistan, Brazil, Norway, UK, Canada, Russia, Bosnia, and even the outreaches of Australia." Animal Planet Romania even posted a message about Kaiser on their Facebook page.
More stirring than these posts was the photo (the lede image here) of the final sendoff this police department gave Kaiser as he and Lebretton took their final steps together. We "like" these posts; we share these stories because they're touching and because we care about these men, their dogs, and their service. But this photo shows us in one single moment (or frame) what these dogs mean to their fellow officers.
I don't consider it a stretch to include police dogs in our war-dog posts. They may not be in a "combat zone" or part of a branch in the U.S. military, but the working dog community is an inclusive one -- it's not overstating the kinship to say that they're all part of the same family.
Photos taken from Plymouth Police Working Dog Foundation FB page