The Lexington County Sheriff’s Department K-9 unit is a close-knit group. With seven handlers, they consider each other family – four-legged members included. That family lost one of its own Tuesday when Forrest, the unit’s only bloodhound, unexpectedly died.
“He was just a big, friendly, slobbery, slobbery dog,” said Deputy Nick Parker, Forrest’s partner and handler. “He loved people, he loved attention and he could track through just about anything.”
Forrest was capable of tracking from a piece of clothing or an item, which made him the unit’s best tracker, according to Parker.
“We always use the best tool for the job. If the track start was going to be really hard or the environment was really urban, we always relied on Forrest,” Parker said. “If there was a runaway or an elderly person missing, we relied on Forrest. He really came in when other people couldn’t pick it up.”
Dr. Amy Spies, a veterinarian who cares for the department’s K-9’s, said Forrest’s sudden death was due to a stomach torsion, meaning it twisted. It’s not uncommon, but it’s often deadly, according to Spies.
“This condition can come on very, very quickly,” Spies said. “We see it in large, deep-chested breeds of dog, which Forrest is.”
Forrest’s death is only the latest hit to the K-9 unit. Spies has been working on Belgian Malinois, Bady, after Spies and the VCA surgery center confirmed the dog developed discospondylitis.
“That infection comes through the blood from somewhere else in the body,” Spies said. “A lot of times you never know where the infection came from, but the bacteria lodge in the bones of the spine.”
Spies said the infection causes extreme pain for a dog and even paralysis if not caught early. She credited Bady’s handler, Deputy Adam Clayton, with noticing the symptoms early on.
“He’s doing very well, but he’s still got a little ways to go and we don’t want to ask him to do a job that’s going to be painful for him,” Spies said. “Unfortunately, as a result of that, he’s now retired.”
Now, the unit is left with six K-9’s to cover more than 700 square miles of the county.
“We’re always working because of that,” Parker said “If somebody’s down or their dog’s down, then we have to fill the slack. So it helps when everybody has a dog and has a dog that can work.”
“The county really needs to stay up to eight dogs,” Spies said. “I would love to see many more dogs in the county because I think they are a valuable resource.”