While serving on the Seymour Police Department, K9 Koa could be a criminal’s worst nightmare.
But for his handler, former officer Ian McPherson, the German shepherd was his work partner and best friend. After Koa’s retirement in 2010, the dog remained a part of the McPherson family.
That’s why having to put Koa to sleep Monday was one of the hardest things McPherson said he has ever had to do.
“It was a tough night in our household without him,” McPherson said. “He truly was great. My wife and kids are crushed, especially my youngest.”
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Koa worked for the Seymour Police Department for six years from 2004 until 2010. He was 14 years old. McPherson said he noticed Koa’s weight was dropping, and he was losing muscle mass but was eating more than usual.
“One day, he was dragging his back feet when he was walking,” McPherson said. “Then, this past weekend, he couldn’t stand up at all. It just wasn’t a good quality of life for him anymore.”
McPherson said Koa was able to tell him it was time.
“They give you a look, and you just know that they are done,” he said. “He gave me that look on Sunday.”
Koa received a police escort, fittingly, as his last ride to Seymour Animal Hospital before he was euthanized.
“He perked up when he saw the lights go on and heard the sirens, then sighed and put his head back down in my lap,” McPherson said of the drive. “I was just destroyed. For six years, I spent more time with him than I did anybody.”
While on the job, McPherson said he didn’t want to become attached to Koa like a pet and wanted to keep it a professional relationship.
“I didn’t want it to affect my ability to deploy him in a dangerous situation where it would cause me to hesitate and put people at risk,” he said. “There were situations where I wouldn’t put a pet in, but I would Koa.”
After Koa retired, McPherson said he knew the dog had to be kept active and have a task to do or his health would decline quickly.
“His new task was to watch over my family and home, and he did that,” McPherson said. “There is a well-worn path in the backyard around the fence where he would patrol the yard and then he would come inside and go room to room. We both were able to adjust to his retirement, and that is why he lived that long.”
Born in the Czech Republic in 2002, Koa, which is the Hawaiian word for courage, was responsible for helping get many drugs and dealers off the streets, said McPherson, who is from Hawaii.
He also earned the honorary rank of sergeant in the U.S. Army for providing training and demonstrations to deploying military units.
In September, retired Seymour police K9 Jake was put to sleep due to declining health. Jake and Koa were purchased around the same time and played a key role in getting the K9 program restarted in Seymour, McPherson said.
For one of his first drug busts, Koa helped recover $14,000 in cash located under the center console of a vehicle and marijuana. That money went back to help fund future police investigations and the K9 program.
“In his career, Koa was responsible for thousands of dollars of seizure money being recovered, and that money helped purchase equipment and benefited the department without being a burden to the taxpayer,” McPherson said.
Koa also made 23 physical apprehensions, McPherson said.
“A lot of people have told me that Koa is a legend because he set the bar for other K9s in the area,” McPherson said. “I didn’t realize how many people appreciated Koa and felt safe knowing that he was coming to help.”
To help promote the K9 program, McPherson handed out baseball cards to kids featuring Koa’s picture.
“A lot of those are still out there, and people were always asking about him,” McPherson said.
Currently, Seymour has one K9, Ace, who works with Officer Adam Surface.
McPherson said he hopes to see the K9 program grow and prosper, but it will require continued community support.
“No police equipment can replicate the nose of a dog,” he said.
After posting about Koa on Facebook on Monday, McPherson said he received a lot of comments from people whose life the dog had impacted.
“Koa selflessly served his community with distinction and honor,” McPherson said. “I will miss my friend.”