Hard to say goodbye: LS police, community organization reflect on deceased canine

tporter@lsjournal.comJanuary 30, 2014 

Lee’s Summit Police Department canine officer Jax passed away Jan. 25 after a short bout with intestinal cancer.

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    Day in January that Lee’s Summit Police Department canine Jax passed away from intestinal cancer.

Scott McMilian’s reflections of Jax, a Czech born German shepherd, run the gamut of emotions.

He laughs, he cries, he fondly remembers.

McMilian, an officer with the Lee’s Summit Police Department, his comrades across the metro area and the Lee’s Summit community at large are mourning the death of Jax, a canine officer who passed away Jan. 25 from intestinal cancer.

McMilian says Jax became sick in December and began losing weight. After a number of veterinary visits and a trip to a specialist, he was diagnosed with intestinal lymphoma in January. Jax began taking medication, but the disease spread too fast for a cure.

“During his illness, he remained energetic and wanted to work,” McMilian said in a letter to the Journal reflecting his work with Jax, who joined the department in 2009. Jax was later joined by Griff, another canine officer with the department. “He continued working for a couple of weeks after his diagnosis. He wrapped up the week with a training day on (Jan. 23). He had a very successful day and got to hang out with K9 handlers from all over the Kansas City metro area.”

The Lee’s Summit Police Department’s K-9 program is part of a larger group of police dogs that train and work together from around the Kansas City metro area. The program is covered under mutual aid agreements between agencies.

“All of the handlers knew that his time was short,” McMilian wrote.

Continuing to reflect on Jax, McMilian added the first real challenge with Jax was at the McMilian home.

“When a police officer becomes a K9 handler, his entire family must be involved and willing to accept the commitment of caring for the K9,” McMilian wrote. “A handler spends more time with his dog than he does his human family. He is subject to being called out at all hours and also spending time away from family events.

“My wife is not very fond of dogs and German shepherds were possibly her least favorite breed. She is strictly opposed to sniffing, licking, jumping, and anything else that dogs do. Jax had to win her over and keep me from living in the dog house with him. He immediately sensed that my wife would require special attention.

“That big, goofy, 90-pound German shepherd threw himself at her feet and immediately rolled over for a belly rub. At that moment, she was hooked. He always treated her differently than the rest of the family. She felt very blessed to have such a respectable dog to watch over me while I was at work.”

Scott Lyons, the department’s interim police chief, said since the K-9 program’s inception in 1992, the LSPD has had an outstanding K-9 unit.

Jax was the department’s fifth canine and Griff, handled by Master Police Officer Steve Grubb, is the sixth.

“We have been fortunate to have not only great working dogs but also exceptional handlers through the years,” Lyons said. “We are constantly evaluating our program to find ways to make it better and to make sure that we are using the program to support our patrol division operations.”

Lyons added the department has a partnership with Lee’s Summit Cares with regards to their K-9 program. Lee’s Summit Cares approached the police department in 2009 about adding a second dog and handler to the unit to more effectively handle the demands of the workload and provide more service to the community.

LSC later received a grant that allowed them to purchase Griff for the department.

Now, the non-profit organization has started a memorial fund in Jax’s honor to help the department replace McMilian’s beloved companion.

“When the community learned of Jax’s passing, there was an overwhelming outpouring of support for the LSPD and Jax’s hander,” Lyons said. “Lee’s Summit Cares approached the police department about setting up a memorial fund to assist the LSPD in funding a replacement for Jax.”

“The fact that they have lost a canine is sad because these dogs are wonderful dogs,” added Roby Little, director of LSC. “The family that keeps them grows very attached to them. They offer a lot of services to the community, also.

“As the story is being told about the service dog (Jax) we are asking for a memorial donation and that the memorial donation be made out to Lee’s Summit Cares so we can use the money to purchase another service dog.”

Wrote McMilian: “It was extremely rewarding to be Jax’s handler. Most K-9 handlers will tell you that we have the greatest job in law enforcement. The bond I had with Jax is difficult to explain. Jax would have protected me with his own life without any hesitation or thought for his own safety and that was an amazing comfort.

“Jax was never trained on how to behave in the back of my patrol car. He took it upon himself to sit in the middle of the car and watch out the back window as we patrolled the city. He quite literally was watching my ‘six,’ police jargon for watching my back.”

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