Grieving Perry police officer: Drug dog was ‘my little brother’

bpurser@macon.comFebruary 14, 2014 

Rex the police dog died Wednesday. He was 12.

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When Rex the police dog first started working narcotics, he got a bad rap that he wouldn’t work and couldn’t find dope. He was quickly returned to the North Carolina kennel where he came from.

But a Perry police officer saw something in him and brought him back to Georgia. Rex did not disappoint.

The small German shepherd that responded to Czech commands scored nearly $1 million in drug seizure money his first week on the job, said Perry police Cpl. Justin West, his second handler who became his owner upon the dog’s retirement a year ago.

Wednesday, the 32-year-old West said goodbye to his “partner, protector and shadow.”

Rex died suddenly from a medical condition. He was 12.

“He was my little brother,” West said. “He always wanted to be with me and always wanted to work.”

He died in his favorite place -- the back of “his” patrol car with West by his side -- and was buried the next day in the country in a nice, shady place.

A marker for Rex is expected to placed at the Perry police training center, which benefited from the drug seizure funds Rex helped generate.

Rex sniffed out drugs and did some tracking for Perry police for about seven years. West was his handler for five of those years.

West recalled Rex’s first visit to his home.

Ron Brainard, the dog’s previous handler who brought him to Perry, dropped Rex off for a couple of days when West was recovering from surgery. Brainard was leaving Perry to join the Houston County Sheriff’s Office. He wanted Rex and West to become accustomed to each other.

“I’m laid up on the couch, under a blanket, watching TV,” West recalled. “Ron brought Rex in. He came straight up to me.”

Rex brought his ball with him.

“He’s had this old, black rubber, globe ball. It’s this weird little thing. It’s supposed to be indestructible for dogs. He’s had that thing since his early training,” West said. “He ... sat right next to me, took that ball and laid it on my chest, looked at me, kinda poked me with his nose like he already knew, ‘You’re the new daddy.’ ”

West, who’s been handling dogs since he was 7, said there’s a special bond between a police dog and handler that’s hard to describe. But anyone who says that a police dog is only a law enforcement tool isn’t telling the truth, or shouldn’t be a canine handler in the first place, West said.

West received his canine handling training while working with his father, a retired a Dooly County sheriff’s detective who handled police dogs for many years.

“Rex was always what I call a very professional dog,” West said. “He knew the game. He knew what he was doing. Some dogs you have to condition and train them to the game. Rex had already been doing it for two years. He was kind of an old hat at it.”

Outside of work, Rex loved to run and chase his ball. Despite his age, he still acted like a puppy. His beloved ball was buried with him.

Rex also liked to run and play with a black Labrador retriever named Lilly, a narcotics dog that replaced him on the Perry police force. West is Lilly’s handler.

Although owned by the city of Perry for most of his career, Rex was family to West.

The officer posted a tribute to Rex on Facebook.

“He always worked hard for Daddy, always got his ball, and was a good boy,” West wrote in the post. “You’ll be missed buddy. K-9 Rex 10-42.”

That “10-42” is police code for “ending shift.”

To contact writer Becky Purser, call 256-9559.

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