K-9 deputy retires to family life

After running down more that 100 suspects in a four-year career, Ajax, a 7-year-old K-9 deputy, retired due to neck injuries gained in service to the Kitsap County Sheriff's Office.

A veterinarian recently diagnosed Ajax with a compressed vertebrae in his "neck." The medical inquiry was held after handler, deputy Joe Hedstrom, began to notice that Ajax was not responding well to verbal commands.

“We decided to take him off duty,” Kitsap County Sheriff's Deputy Scott Wilson said. “Ajax is now living at home with his handler, Deputy Joe Hedstrom, and his family. If the K-9's can no longer perform their tasks, they are medically retired.”

Sheriff Steve Boyer said that his K-9 deputies face the same hazards out in the field on patrol as do his human deputies and detectives.

"It's an unfortunate fact that injuries do occur," Boyer said. "While we can't provide K-9s with pay raises, retirements pensions and the like, we do provide then with the best possible training, equipment and veterinary care that is available."

According to Wilson, deputies aren't sure whether the injury occurred within one specific incident or multiple instances, but the veterinarian told the Kitsap County Sheriff's Office that if deputies continued to use the animal on operations that the consequences for the dog were potentially life threatening, or the canine might become crippled.

"He knew when it was time to work and when it was time to stand down," Hedstrom said.

Ajax is a native of Slovakia and was born in 2005. The German Shepard came to the U.S. in 2007 and went through more than 400 hours in a police K-9 academy in Wapakoeta, Ohio, before joining Deputy Hedstrom. The duo worked together for Ajax' entire career in which he caught more than 112 suspects.

“That's a significant number,” Wilson said.

In one case last December, Ajax trailed a copper thief into the woods in Central Kitsap near the Puget Sound Energy Substation from which he'd just stolen valuable ground wires while "scrapping." The shepherd held his suspect to the ground by the foot as Hedstrom Arrived to take over.

The K-9 earned more credentials in its short four-year period of work with deputies from 2008 to 2012 than most dogs that serve a seven-year period with the sheriff's office. Among the animal's achievements were certifications from the National Association of Professional Canine Handlers, the International Police Working Dog Association, the American Police Canine Association and the Washington Administrative Code requirements for police canines. In Nov. 2009, the dog also was accredited with the Washington State Police Canine Association and, in October 2011, with the Washington State Police Canine Association. Ajax also graduated from the Spokane Police Advanced Patrol K-9 Handler Course.

Hedstrom said he would still prefer to be patrolling Kitsap County with Ajax and "finding the bad guys" but knows Ajax "will rest comfortably at home and be spoiled by my family."

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