Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Thank you, Officer Rex

A valued member of the South Euclid Police Department retired this week, after ably serving the city for ten years. His name is Officer Rex. Officer Rex doesn’t have a last name, because Officer a dog.

Rex is a German Shepherd. Like most police dogs, Rex was not born in the United States. He was raised in Holland, and his papers trace him to the Czech Republic. Mostly, this is due to a problem the American version of the breed has developed: The “slope” in the back commonly seen in our country is considered desirable by the American Kennel Club, and American dogs are bred to maintain this characteristic. However one feels the slope looks, it is in fact a sign of deformity and often results in hind-leg disease. Thus, the American version of the breed is useless as a police dog - which must run and tackle. Last Saturday, several members of the Avondale/Argonne/West Belvoir neighborhood group gathered to throw Rex a retirement party. I was there and noticed that Rex’s back, despite his advancing years, is beautifully straight.

Officer Rex’s service has been highly beneficial to the city: he’s sniffed out drugs from marijuana, to heroin, to cocaine from vehicles, homes, and schools; he’s apprehended suspects, and located weapons used in crimes. Rex has also assisted in providing security, such as when President Obama visited Shaker Heights. He’s also helped in the area of public relations: A service dog can often bring a “human” face to the police department, particularly with children.

Rex will continue to live, as he has for ten years, with Officer Mike Fink, his handler since Rex was 13 months old. Last week, Officer Fink told me that Rex knew it was time for work when his master started donning his police uniform. I’m not surprised. My dog, Mason, is able to delineate whether I’m getting ready for work or to take him for a walk. While humans are often thinking of many things at once – anticipating what they need to do that day, what to buy at the store, remembering to fill the gas tank; and berating themselves over past mistakes – dogs are solely focused on the activity of the moment. They observe us humans, and learn our habits. I wonder how Rex will feel when his master leaves for work, while Rex stays at home. With time, he will doubtless adapt to the new routine. At eleven years old, Rex is well past canine retirement age and has earned his rest.

Given that he did not draw a salary, Officer Rex was the least expensive member of the force. He was purchased with confiscated drug money – probably the best way such money could be put to good use. The city continues to use another police dog, Officer Recon, and is working to purchase a successor for Rex sometime next year.

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