K-9 set to retire from force

GREENFIELD — A Greenfield Police Department K-9 unit is retiring from the force.

Nacho, a German shepherd who has been with the department for about eight years, is leaving the department with his handler of six years, Eric Fields, who resigned from the department earlier this month to run his tree removal business full time. The Greenfield Board of Works and Public Safety this week approved Nacho’s retirement and Fields’ request to take ownership of him.

The police department has no immediate plans to replace the dog.

In 2009, Fields and Nacho began working together when Fields became the German shepherd’s handler after Mike McCorkle, who was the canine handler at the time, resigned from the department.

Since then, the two have apprehended robbery suspects, located drugs and spent countless hours together.

Every time Fields was on duty, so was Nacho, and that led to a strong bond, said Greenfield Police Department Chief John Jester, who was previously a K-9 handler.

He said because the dogs spend eight hours a day at work with their handlers and live at their homes, they become partners, and the dog is trained to protect its handler at all costs. That could make transferring the dog to a new owner difficult.

“That dog, really, it gives a whole new meaning to man’s best friend,” Jester said. “You put a lot of trust in these dogs. I’m convinced these dogs would die for their handlers. It’s a huge bond.”

For Fields, the thought of leaving Nacho and giving him to another handler was too difficult.

“He’s like a part of my family. I’ve spent more time with him over the eight years than I probably did with my family,” Fields said. “He’s like another kid.”

The department doesn’t know Nacho’s exact age, but Jester guessed he’s about 9. K-9s typically retire after eight to 10 years of service because they become old, and many develop hip dysplasia from getting in and out of their handler’s car each day.

Jester said the force didn’t think transferring the dog to a new officer would serve the department well. He’s already had two handlers, and it’s likely he’s getting too old to go through training with a new officer. Instead, Fields sent a letter to Jester and the works board asking them to grant him ownership.

During his time with the department, Nacho played an important role in many cases. In 2011, he helped officers find 35 pounds of marijuana in a car traveling on Interstate 70; in 2012, Nacho helped officers find suspects who were hiding in a trunk of a car after robbing a local CVS.

Mayor Chuck Fewell said he believes granting ownership to Fields is the best situation for the dog. As a former Indiana State Police trooper, he knows how tight the bond is between dog and handler.

Often, the dogs are young when they’re paired with their handler; the duo goes through training together, spends all day together and work together to fight crime. They often become members of the handler’s family.

“It’s now a family member. If, when it retires, it went someplace else, that would be like taking one of your kids and placing him someplace else. They become very attached to the dog,” Fewell said.

The city attorney will draw up paperwork for the city to relinquish ownership and liability of Nacho, Fewell said. The dog will be in good hands, he added.

“Nacho will be well taken care of, and I think he’ll be happy,” Fewell said.

While the department has no immediate plans to replace Nacho — there are other K-9s on the force — when the time comes to do so, the department will work with officers to see who would like to become a K-9 handler, Jester said.

The K-9 is an investment; the cost to purchase a dog bred to become a K-9 is about $8,000 to $10,000, and after training the dog and its handler, the price tag can rise to as much as $30,000.

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Samm Quinn is a reporter at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. She can be reached at 317-477-3275 or squinn@greenfieldreporter.com.