By Jimmy Orr, Cowboy State Daily
When retired Cheyenne Police K9 Ruger died last week, he left behind an impressive resume of accomplishments — but also a very large family.
The German shepherd who spent seven of his 11 years in active police work was responsible for 124 arrests, 545 narcotic searches and helped with the apprehension of 35 suspects.
In addition, Ruger seized more than 80 grams of heroin, 54 grams of cocaine, and more than a pound of meth.
But it was his personality that won him a legion of fans who appreciated his work with the police force, where he was remembered as a reliable, punctual and good-natured member of the force.
“Ruger was different as he really loved people and kids,” former Cheyenne Police Chief Brian Kozak said. “Some police dogs you have to watch for because they get so protective of their handlers. But Ruger loved going to special events and doing demonstrations.”
Kozak attributed that to how Ruger was raised. Officer Chad Wellman, he said, raised him for 18 months before he started K9 training.
“The reason you have good dogs is because you have good handlers,” he said of Wellman. “He invested so much of his personal time into the training. It made a difference.”
Kozak said police dogs are known among law enforcement as fellow officers because they, too, risk their lives in bad situations.
In fact, it’s the K9 who puts itself in harm’s way to protect the handler.
“Dogs will go into a building first and search for bad people,” Kozak told Cowboy State Daily on Tuesday.
“When there’s a burglary call, officers need to clear the building,” he said. “The dogs go in first and can actually do the job faster and more efficiently because of its tremendous sense of smell. But there’s a lot of risk there. They save lives by putting their lives on the line.”
Kozak, the longest-serving police chief in the history of Cheyenne, said because the K9 officers work alongside other law enforcement officers day-in and day-out, when they retire and later pass on, it’s very difficult for the entire team.
“We put our lives in their paws, essentially, and so it is tough when we lose our K9 partners,” he said.
Can a police dog really be thought of as a teammate? Kozak didn’t blink. Of course they can. Within three months of intensive training, the dogs are ready for work and just like their human counterparts they spend 10 hours a day on the job.
The dogs know it’s time to work by watching for clues. Once their handler’s uniform is on, that’s when the “dog turns it on.”’
“They know it’s time to work,” Kozak said. “They get excited by it.”
He said that’s what made it so difficult for Ruger when he retired because he didn’t want to.
“Talking to Officer Wellman, Ruger was extremely sad when he saw Chad put on his uniform and go out the door to the police car, because he wanted to go,” Kozak said.
But the dogs have limits. At a certain age, they start having issues with their joints and can’t do the job anymore.
So it was couch-potato time, Kozak said, and Ruger didn’t mind that.
“Chad said he loved being a couch-potato but at the same time, he could tell he wanted to be back on the job,” he said.
Cheyenne Police Department spokesperson Alex Farkas told Cowboy State Daily that Ruger’s passing has affected people across the nation.
“People from all over the country have reached out following Ruger’s passing,” Farkas said. “Their family is very grateful for all of the support they have received.