By Jennifer Kocher, Cowboy State Daily
There’s nothing worse for a hard-working dog than when the body starts shutting down. But it’s good to know when that happens, there are friends in the wings just waiting to help out.
Just ask K9 Officer Hunter, who is currently recovering after having his toe amputated. The 10-year-old black lab recently retired after spending more than five years busting bad guys and sniffing out drugs for the Wyoming Department of Corrections.
During his career, Hunter had thousands of deployments across five prisons, three halfway houses and 23 probation and parole offices with handler Jory Shoopman, an investigative K9 sergeant.
Hunter also worked in the community doing home searches for probation and parole checks and in county jails and schools where there were no K9s on staff.
His biggest bust involved sniffing out $11,500 in meth, heroin and fentanyl during a home visit for probation and parole in Laramie County. His work with the DOC earned him “Top Dog” Kyle Hall Memorial Award for Outstanding Narcotic Detection in 2016 and 2019 from the U.S. Police Canine Association’s Region 14, which covers 13 western states.
However, Hunter’s health started going downhill in 2017 after he was diagnosed with fragmented medial coronoid process, a condition that required surgery to his elbow to remove bone fragments in the cartilage. He also started having seizures two years later for which he now takes medication. Ultimately, it was the arthritis in his elbow that forced him to retire after more than five years with the department in June 2020.
That August, he got a sore on his toe that wouldn’t go away despite repeated treatments with antibiotic. Finally, it was determined the toe would have to be removed.
It was then that Shoopman reached out to Project K9 Hero for help paying for Hunter’s surgeries. Jason Johnson, who founded Project K9 Hero in 2016, said the organization was created to help retired K9 officers and military working dogs. To date, the national organization has helped 142 retired animals, including Rocky with the Campbell County Sheriff Office in Gillette.
The organization stepped in and covered the K9’s $868 surgery. It turned out the lump on the toe was cancerous, so the surgery essentially saved the dog’s life.
“We decided to help Hunter because he had significant medical needs that were a financial burden on his handler,” Johnson said. “Once retired from the state of Wyoming, there is no funding in place to help heroes like Hunter with medical care after their service. That’s the reason I founded Project K-9 Hero, to help retired Police K9s like Hunter have the retirement they deserve.”
Shoopman was grateful to Project K9 Hero and Johnson, who Shoopman says regularly calls to check in on him.
“They truly care,” she said.
Now, Hunter lives with Shoopman, who has gone on to work in the field with K9 Officer Zeke, who also nabbed “Top Dog” award in 2020 and 2021.
Hunter was Shoopman’s first partner after she became a handler in June 2015. Hunter had been a rescue dog and received training at a K9 school in Iowa.
Shoopman met Hunter during her interview for a K9 handler position. Hunter sealed the deal by coming up and putting his head in her lap to get a head scratch.
Their fate was set. The pair spent the next five years traveling all over the state working. Shoopman said by far, their favorite assignment was school visitations where Hunter was lavished with attention by hundreds of kids.
“He’s a special dog all around,” Shoopman told Cowboy State Daily in an email Monday. “He has a high drive to work and is very smart. Our bond is very strong, and we have a mutual trust.”
Sometimes Shoopman brings Hunter to work to visit, but now, mostly Hunter naps in the sun, plays ball and sleeps in his recliner as he rides out the dog days of summer.