Death of a K-9: 2 handlers explain how they coped

Two officers who have lost a dog in the line of duty offer advice for others who may suffer a similar tragedy

With gunfire deaths among cops up astronomically this year, officers across the nation are facing unprecedented dangers from ambush and other attacks by violent offenders who are targeting police merely because of the badge on their chests. 

In addition to this tragic trend, police agencies across the country are also suffering a spate of deaths of police K-9s. At the time of this writing, 26 K-9s have died in the line of duty in 2016 — most recently, K-9 Amigo of the Kingman (Ariz.) Police Department died from complications of heat exhaustion while participating in a search and rescue operation for two missing hikers. 

It is absolutely undeniable that when a K-9 is killed, it takes  a significant toll on the handler and the department. Two officers who have lost a dog in the line of duty — Chris Fenoglio and Marty Dulworth — offer some advice for others who may suffer a similar tragedy. If you are a handler who has lost a partner and you have further thoughts on how to get through such an ordeal, please add your thoughts in the comments area below.

Getting support
In Tucson (Ariz.), Officer Chris Fenoglio had only had K-9 Ivan for about nine months when the dog was shot and killed by a carjacker in December 2012 — the offender was also shot and killed in the incident. Fenoglio had previously worked with his first dog for six years. He is now working with his third dog for the past three and a half years. 

“I had a tremendous support from the department and my fellow officers,” Fenoglio said. “The community was also incredibly supportive. There was some dark humor involved with the other handlers in my unit, but that was from the other handlers only — if a regular cop had tried that, it would not have gone over very well. I have pretty thick skin and I went with it — it was a way for them to deal with his loss too. It was also a way for them to support me and for me to feel that support. Cops are tough folks, as you know. I was not the only person affected by Ivan’s death. The other guys in the unit were affected — some a little bit and some a tremendous amount.”

Fenoglio added that he leaned on his religion to get him through the difficult period.  “I had taken a life and lost my partner all in one fell swoop. My faith was very important and tremendous in dealing with this. 

The year 2012 was also tough on the City of Anderson (Ind.) Police Department. Officer Marty Dulworth and K-9 Kilo were shot multiple times with an AK-47 — Dulworth survived but Kilo did not. Three weeks after that shooting, a bank robbery suspect shot and killed K-9 Magnum — also in Tucson.

Dulworth says that dealing with the loss of K-9 Kilo was hard, but since he was in the hospital on heavy medication for several months, he received both physical and mental support. A big part of the mental support came from his K-9 team, which reassured him there would always be a spot in the unit for him. 

“I didn’t feel rushed and I didn’t feel like I was going to be replaced and that’s a good thing not to feel rushed,” Dulworth said. “Officers need to remember everyone handles stress and loss different. No two people are the same and there is no perfect words to fix someone dealing with a loss — just allow them the time they need and always show support which means listen don’t always talk just listen to what that officer is saying during his time of loss. 

“My friends and K-9 unit were amazing during my incident. So the main thing is let that officer know there is a spot waiting for him when he returns to work. Don’t ever make them feel rushed or pushed, that officer will let you know when he or she is ready or if they will ever be ready and you move on from there.”

Dulworth said once he got back on the street, he at times felt very sad and he even questioned his actions on that night over and over. “I know now that if it wasn’t for Kilo that night I would be dead and there is a chance others would have died or been shot as well,” he said. 

Getting another K-9
Fenoglio wanted “back in the game” right away. “Driving a K-9 car home with no little buddy in the back sucked,” he said. “I wanted another dog ASAP. Still feeling like a part of the team was important to me, and getting another toothed heat seeker was important to me.”

Dulworth said he felt the same. 

“I returned to duty and got in that police car; for the first time in years I was alone in that car,” he said. “I remember wanting another K-9 as soon as I returned to work.”

Due to complications from the shooting, one of Dulworth’s legs was amputated, so he waited on getting another K-9. As soon as he returned to work, he picked a new dog. 

But, he did  caution that getting another K-9 shouldn’t be with the goal of replacing a former partner. 

“I prepared myself not to compare the new dog with the old one. I’m glad my situation worked out like it did because I had time to grieve and accept all that had happened — allowing some time to pass was good for me” Dulworth said.

Dulworth’s friend and fellow handler on the department who also lost his K-9 got another K-9 pretty quickly and that worked for him. 

“He still misses his old partner Magnum but he jumped right back into the swing of things and is still going strong today,” Dulworth said. “So for me, it’s up to the handler. If they are the type of person that needs some time to get over it then take that time. If they are ready to hit them streets again then go get that new partner and kick butt.”

A special bond
There is a special bond and partnership between a handler and a K-9. Not only are those animals vital in various enforcement efforts — drug detection, bomb detection, fugitive apprehension, and a host of other missions — they routinely protect officers even if it means sacrificing their own lives. They spend countless hours in training and on patrol, and become members of those handler’s families. 

Fenoglio said, “I spend more time with the pup than I do with my wife and kids. It is tight and incredible relationship for sure. Once a team gets about a year to a year and half of working together, the ability to read each other is real, and incredible — well-oiled machine does not do it true justice.”

He said the hardest thing about losing his partner was telling his children — 5 and 9 years old —that Ivan wasn’t coming home. 

“A handler might want to mentally prep themselves for this. Not sure if this will help, but might take even the slightest edge off” Fenoglio said. 

Dulworth agreed that the bond between handler and K-9 is amazing and his loss hit his family especially hard since he was with them 24 hours a day, seven days a week. 

“When we all had time to reflect on the shooting we all knew if it wasn’t for Kilo that night a husband, father, son, brother and police officer would have been killed. I think of him every day and I thank him every day for giving his life to save mine and others. Kilo was and is a true hero” He said. 

Police working dogs receive no salary or benefits — they eagerly do their jobs merely for the love of their handlers. Like Ivan and Kilo, these incredible animals often make the ultimate sacrifice, and their service should never be forgotten. 

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