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Police K-9 PAGO

Police K-9 PAGO

German Shephard
2003-November 10th, 2012
Beyond The Call Of Duty - an amazing story as told through the eyes of Police Officer Sue McLeod - the K-9 Handler for Pago.
Police K-9 PAGO Police K-9 PAGO Police K-9 PAGO Police K-9 PAGO Police K-9 PAGO Police K-9 PAGO Police K-9 PAGO Police K-9 PAGO Police K-9 PAGO
Color: Black and tan
Favorite Activity: He loved work -especially tracking!! Swimming and chasing balls when off duty.
Favorite Buddies: Jette and Buttons - the family pets.
Favorite Food: Ju-jubes & McDonald french fries!! He was a vacuum and would eat anything - worse than a lab! He always got the last bite of everything I was eating and would wait beisde me knowing I wouldn't finish it, he would - he was the finisher!
Favorite Place: Beside me - no matter what! Nose over my shoulder in the SUV, watching the road for me.... he even guarded the shower door so no one would enter! Yes... my guardian angel now...
Favorite Toy: Yellow rubber ball with rope attached
Gender: Male
Nickname(s): Pegs; JYD (short for junk-yard dog)
It was a rough start. A young German Shepherd named Pago, age 10 ½ months, was going to his third owner. Born in 2003 in Germany, Pago was first shipped to a man in San Francisco, but for some reason it didn´t work out.   Pago´s second home was miserable, as he was living with a family in Texas and perpetually chained underneath a porch. They returned him to the dog broker because he wasn´t “mean enough”.  

Constable Sue McLeod always felt Pago had quickly recognized the potential the Victoria Police Department presented as a good home and therefore Pago worked very hard to ensure he was allowed to stay.   After just twelve weeks of intensive, exhausting training, Pago and Sue were certified as a K9 team.  Not only certified for general duty but also narcotics work.  Adding to this achievement, Pago was about 8 months younger than most police dogs when they begin their working career.  Sue was new to the K9 unit and Pago was her first dog, so it was also a steep learning curve for her.    The bond between Sue and Pago was immediate and the measure of trust in each other - so essential for their safety in the stressful, sometimes dangerous world of police work -- was resolute.  Sue began every shift by telling Pago, “You watch my back and I´ll scratch yours.”

In their seven years of working together, Sue and Pago had over 300 captures and almost 200 finds during evidence searches.  One particular evidence search stood out above all others. Sue and Pago received a call to assist some officers in Esquimalt´s Memorial Park with a group of teenagers who were suspected of dealing drugs. They began their search of the area and soon Pago alerted Sue to a find, hidden in some bushes.  As Sue caught up, she heard a pop, then a hissing noise.  Upon her arrival, Pago turned and there facing Sue was a strange beast.  “Pago had bitten into a green paint can.  His nostrils were filled. His eyes, face and chest were green, as was his police harness. He was starting to choke.”  It appeared that the  kids were graffiti artists and Pago had found their backpack with the cans of spray paint.  While humorous now, at the time it was quite frightening.  After a quick drive to the veterinarian´s office, and quite a number of baths, Pago was fine.

One memorable capture involved a pursuit where Pago was injured in a manner that ultimately contributed to his retirement.  In this instance, Sue and Pago were asked by the RCMP to help track a mentally unbalanced escapee - with an outstanding warrant - on Saturna Island.  After a bizarre chase, Sue and two RCMP members were running through dense bush, trying to keep up with Pago, whose behaviour had signaled that he was finally close to the suspect. “Then all of a sudden the tracking line went super tight and it was everything I could do to hold on.”  Pago and the suspect had inadvertently run off the edge of a 70-foot high cliff.  With the two RCMP members holding Pago´s lead, Sue went to the cliff´s edge only to find the suspect caught midway down on some bushes, while Pago was hanging by his lead and harness, still trying to grab enough ground to scramble over to the suspect.  There was a danger involved in hauling Pago up the cliff because Sue knew the action would cause him to flip over and slip out of his harness into a free fall.  In a split second, she determined the safer action was to release the tracking lead and let Pago roll down the remainder of the cliff.  “It was not easy and I was scared spit less.” Pago did reach the suspect and made contact with him but was ultimately thrown free. Sue knew, as soon as Pago reached the bottom that he was injured because he didn´t try to struggle back up the cliff.  Sue did get to the suspect and made the arrest. The high regard for police dogs was evident in the efforts made to get Pago to veterinary care quickly.  Using the RCMP helicopter that had been helping out with the search, Pago and Sue were flown to Victoria airport where another RCMP vehicle drove Sue to her police vehicle parked at the Sidney ferry terminal.  Sue had already contacted her veterinarian, and two vets from the practice offered to meet her at her home.  The diagnosis was muscle and tissue damage on the right front shoulder requiring 10 days of recovery, but “that injury kept re-occurring."

It was January 1st, 2011 when Sue determined it was time for Pago to retire. That right shoulder just wouldn´t take the pounding, particularly the constant jumps out of her police SUV.  The decision is always difficult, but magnified in a small police department such as Victoria.  In small municipal forces, being an officer in a K9 unit is a coveted position, which means the appointments have limits, in order to provide regular opportunities for new officers to rotate through the unit.    Therefore, when a dog retires, the handler´s appointment to the K9 unit also ends and they will be redeployed elsewhere within the force.  They give up a favored posting that is often viewed as a career highlight. Retirement isn´t just the dog going through a major life change, but also the officer.

At the same time Pago was being retired, 2 of the other K9 teams in the unit were also nearing retirement.  With a roster of 4 general-purpose teams in Victoria´s K9 unit, the prospect of having 3 new teams, all with novice handlers simultaneously training their new dogs was not desirable.  As a result Sue was asked to remain in the unit, handling a new dog. A request she embraced with enthusiasm.

Pago´s last day of work was January 27, 2011.  It was a highly emotional day for Sue and she remembers, “That last call, I could hardly keep it together.”  She knew not having him beside her at work was going to be tough as “Pago brought me joy, comfort and safety at work.”  Difficult for Sue, even though she already knew she still had a job in the K9 unit to return to the next morning.  For Pago the big change began on the next day.

For police dogs, their handler is the centre of their existence.  They spend long hours in their company every day, work to please their handler and thrive on it.  The bond is formidable.  Their contact with the world beyond their handler is carefully regulated and sheltered.  Police dogs don´t go for off-leash walks in parks like pets, as their handlers are unwilling to put them in positions of risk. It must never be forgotten that police dogs have the potential to react as powerful weapons to perceived threats in non-work related situations.

In Victoria, when a police dog retires various expenses for the dog may continue to be paid by the Police Department, including basic veterinary costs. For many handlers this is the time when they move the dog into the house from the large outdoor kennel structure supplied by the Department.  Pago did start out in the kennel but early in their relationship Sue had moved him into her home.

The transition to retirement is difficult.  One day the dogs are being active in a job they love partnered with the person who means so much to them...the next day they have little to do and the central person to their existence is away for hours at a time. Pago would watch Sue prepare for work, follow her around the house and hope he was going to be asked to accompany her out the door.   It was always difficult for Sue to leave him behind.  Pago would lie by the front door once she was gone and wait there for her return. “Pago never really adapted, he accepted retirement, grudgingly.” The only consolation was the fact that Pago was physically slowing down and his drive was more subdued.

Pago was rarely left alone.  For much of his retirement, he shared the house with the other family pets; his buddy Jette, a black lab and the family cat, Buttons.  Because of the emphasis on night shifts in a K9 unit, Sue´s husband tends to be home while she is at work.  He adored Pago and together they enjoyed long daily walks. Pago became very loving in his retirement.  He enjoyed people and having visitors in the house. He went on most family vacations.  When vacations involved air travel, Pago was left with family members or close friends.

Uno, Sue´s new police dog, arrived a week before Pago retired. Usually the two dogs were kept separate, but Sue also ensured that Uno now had the superior role in the their pack. In the beginning, Uno´s kennel was in the garage. He would occasionally be brought into the house and lie on the couch beside Sue, a place Pago had always claimed as his own.  As the pack leader, Sue enforced Pago´s cooperation and Pago would lie by the door and wait for Uno to leave.  Sue and her husband would often walk the two dogs together, with Sue walking Uno.  The relationship between the two dogs was coming along well.

When the end came for Pago, it happened with little warning.  The first sign occurred when Pago didn´t gobble down one of his favorite treats - a ju jube.  He ate it, but only because Sue expected it.  Four hours later when Pago fell down after trying to get up from his bed, Sue and her husband rushed him to the veterinary hospital.  Sue recalls her conversation with the vet after examining Pago, “As soon as she said cancer and it was a very large mass, I said no, this is it.  Even despite not knowing he was bleeding out.  This was a dog that gave me everything.  This was just to maintain his dignity.” Unbeknownst to the vet, while she was delivering the news to Sue, Pago arrested. The decision to euthanize was irrelevant.  “Pago was deeply loved and owned such a part of my heart. Losing him was heartbreaking. I´m still grieving.”  It was November 10, 2012.

When a police dog is killed in the line of duty there is a solemn remembrance service, widely publicized and attended by dignitaries, members of the department, the public and K9 units near and far.  Sue feels it is a great honour to attend such services and finds them to be a beautiful tribute although oftentimes difficult to watch. “You always imagine yourself in their position.”

When a Victoria police dog retires, there is little ceremony.  In Pago´s case, because there were 3 K9 teams retiring at the same time, a small ceremony was held at police headquarters.  Each team was presented with a shadow box that included mementos of their dog´s service, including its police badge.  Pago´s shadow box also included strips from his green spray painted harness.

When a retired police dog dies, a note will be circulated around the Department.  It is then up to the individual co-workers to express their sympathy.  

The Victoria Police Department has come to recognize these selfless animals deserve better recognition than they have traditionally received.  On February 11, 2014 a memorial wall with pictures and plaques for every VicPD owned Police Service Dog that worked their tenure and that have since died - whether as a result of duty or old age - was unveiled. The K9 Memorial Wall will be installed at VicPD headquarters.  Pet Loss Care Memorial Center is proud to donate and sponsor the wall.

In the time since Pago´s passing, Sue is gradually coming to terms with the loss.  She recently had a portrait of Pago inked on her back, so in a sense Pago continues to watch her back.  And by reaching behind, she may occasionally scratch his.  
Comments (9 )
Thank you for sharing your journey, Sue.
February 14th, 2014 11:15:17
Thank you so much for everything both of you.
March 13th, 2015 16:13:20
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