The bond between a K-9 police officer and its handler is a delicate one.
In the case of Scott McMilian, an officer with the Lee’s Summit Police Department, his relationship with his partner, Jax, came to a sudden end earlier this year when the Czech-born German shepherd died of intestinal cancer.
Jax, who joined the department in 2009, became sick last December and began losing weight. After a number of veterinary visits and a trip to a specialist, he was diagnosed the next month with intestinal lymphoma. He began taking medication, but the disease spread too fast for a cure.
His death stunned McMilian, the Lee’s Summit Police Department, community leaders in Lee’s Summit and McMilian’s police comrades throughout the metro area.
McMilian, the department and members of civic and community organizations in Lee’s Summit gathered Aug. 7 at police headquarters to welcome the officer’s new partner, Enzo, a 2-year-old Belgian Malinois.
McMilian completed a short demonstration with Enzo for the crowd. The pup came off as obedient, loyal and ready to serve. He also displayed a level of protectiveness for his handler when a reporter approached McMilian for an introductory handshake.
“I wouldn’t do that,” McMilian said to the unsuspecting scribe as Enzo viciously barked. “He’s very protective.”
Comparing the two dogs was difficult for McMilian, but he highlighted the strong points of each.
“Everybody had to be Jax’s friend,” McMilian said. “He did the police work because he was trained to do it and it was fun, but he was just a very friendly dog.
“Enzo is kind of deceivingly friendly. He’s being kind of ornery this afternoon trying to eat (a fellow officer who was part of the demonstration). Jax could be trusted really around anyone. He could read people and was very quick to read situations.”
Enzo was born in Holland and trained in the United States. He started his training in April of this year before joining McMilian in June. The dog understands commands in German and English. Enzo is the department’s seventh K-9 officer since the program began in 1992.
The dog’s training was paid for through community donations, namely a $12,000 grant provided by Lee’s Summit Cares through an anonymous donor.
In fact, 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 workload and provide more service to the community.
The non-profit organization later received a $9,000 grant that allowed the purchase of a second canine for the department.
After Jax’s death, Lee’s Summit Cares started a memorial fund in the dog’s honor to help the department replace McMilian’s beloved companion.
“We know the value of a canine officer,” said Roby Little, director of Lee’s Summit Cares. “We believe strongly that they are very effective and very helpful to our police officers.
“We were sad to lose Jax and the decision was made to set up the memorial in order to give people that also feel strongly about K-9 officers the opportunity to donate. That memorial fund will remain open through Lee’s Summit Cares because we are always going to want more K-9 officers.”
McMilian said that when a police officer becomes a K-9 handler, his entire family must be involved and willing to accept the commitment of caring for the K-9. He added that his wife was not keen on Jax in the beginning, but grew to love him. Enzo, on the other hand, was welcomed with open arms but proved difficult.
“My wife does not like dogs at all,” McMilian told the amused crowd. “Jax knew from the moment he met her it was going to be difficult. He kind of broke her down.
“It’s a different story for Mr. Enzo. They didn’t get along. He wanted to eat my wife for the first three weeks he was in training. It was a competition to decide who was in charge. He knew I was in charge, but he was hoping he was No. 2. He eventually gave in and was like, ‘I’ll be No. 3.’”
Toriano Porter is the business and education reporter for the Lees Summit Journal.