Officers, community mourn death of K-9 Jethro
Officers from across Wayne and Holmes counties joined a worldwide outpouring of sympathy and sadness after a four-legged hero named Jethro died in the line of duty over the weekend.
"I'm with my dog (Haro) more than my own family," said Josh Timko, K-9 officer for the Wooster Police Department. "My dog goes to work with me, lives with me. My dog is my best friend ... it's not just a dog for us."
Timko was one of several local K-9 handlers who offered their perspective when asked about news that Jethro, a K-9 unit with the Canton Police Department, was shot during a burglary call Saturday. Jethro died Sunday and the alleged burglar remained in jail on a $5 million bond Monday.
Pictures of Jethro and his handler, officer Ryan Davis, went viral on social media over the weekend following the incident.
Memorial services for Jethro have been scheduled for Thursday at the Canton Memorial Civic Center at 11 a.m.
Timko has been a K-9 handler for the Wooster department for approximately a year now. He said during a court detail Monday he wore his "mourning badge," a black bar over his police badge in honor of Jethro.
"When I first saw (the news of Jethro), it hit close to home," he added. "It's very sad."
"As a former K-9 handler, you build a very strong bond with your dog," said Wooster Police Chief Matt Fisher. "To lose your partner is tough. I can't imagine what he's going through and our department's thoughts are with them at this time."
In his 15 years in law enforcement, Jason Woodruff, Apple Creek chief, has worked alongside many officers. However, few left the impact that Diesel, the village's first trained drug dog did. After 10 years, Diesel retired and Woodruff debuted his replacement, Axel, in early 2015.
"You develop such an emotional bond and attachment (with the K-9) that I can't even say how I would react," said Woodruff, searching for words to describe the loss. He called news of Jethro's death a "terrible tragedy."
"It's a whole different relationship than with any other pet," said Andrew Koch, K-9 agent for the Medway Drug Enforcement Agency. "Unfortunately, when things like this happen ... everybody kind of feels for you. They're there to keep us safe and the community safe. But at the same time, he probably saved the handler's life."
"That's a horrible thing," said Rittman patrolman David Miller. "I wouldn't know how to feel if it was mine."
Miller has been with his K-9 Trooper for three years; previously he worked with Stitch for six years.
"A lot of people don't understand; they think the dog just stays at the police department. I am with Trooper 7 days a week, 24 hours a day. I am with him more than my kids."
Miller said Jethro's death was a tragic loss, not only for the officer and the department, but the community, too.
"I hope they can rebuild this and start again," Miller said. He offered his condolences to Davis and the police department.
Holmes County Sheriff's Sgt. Tim Stryker has been a handler to K-9 King, who is preparing to retire in the next few years. Stryker and King have been partners since 2008.
"Word travels fast," he said, noting he learned of Jethro's passing shortly after the dog died. "Right away, I thought about my dog. I can't imagine what (Davis) is going through. I would be devastated. My heart goes out to (Davis) and his family. This is a family dog.
"My dog is part of the family -- my personal family at home and the bigger law enforcement family. We are all family," Stryker said.
Jethro, Stryker said, died performing his most important duty -- to provide protection for his handler, other officers and the public.
He said he's similarly used King to try to flush a suspect out during a building search, though nine times out of 10 the threat of sending in a dog trained to find and bite a suspect is enough to encourage voluntary compliance and surrender.
Wayne County Sheriff's Capt. Doug Hunter, who was a K-9 handler before his move up the ranks, seconded that sentiment.
"It's always a tragedy when a police dog loses his life," Hunter said. "But we realize the sacrifice he made results in saving a human life."
"That's why we train so much with the dogs. You have to have full confidence there's not going to be anyone in there," said Stryker, adding, in doing their jobs, these trained dogs often put their lives in between violent suspects and responding officers.
"From my understanding, (Jethro) was going in to detain a suspect and he used his life to spare the life of the officer. That's a risk that comes with any job you put a K-9 in. You know it will take the life of a dog to save the life of an officer."
Nevertheless, despite all the training, he said, there's no way to emotionally prepare for the worst. "The dog is a tool, but he easily becomes a family member, your partner, your best friend, the one who is with you 24 hours a day, the one you know you can trust."
Stryker went one step further -- as the suspect in Jethro's death has been charged -- when he said he's glad the state recognizes and makes it a felony offense to cause the death of a police dog, but wishes the charge and punishment better mirrored those associated with the assault and death of human officers.
"When a dog dies in line of duty, especially at hands of a suspect, I don't think penalty is harsh enough. They're taking the place of lives of officers. The punishment should fit the crime."
Stryker said he and other members of the local K-9 community plan to come together to attend Jethro's funeral.
"He died in the line of duty. He saved officers' lives, and for that he was a hero," said Stryker.
Reporters Bobby Warren, Jonathan Scholles, Christine L. Pratt and Steven F. Huszai contributed to this story.