Historically, the Belgian Malinois has been a herding dog that serves as protector of farm and family. Due to its natural protective temperament, remarkable intelligence and easy trainability, the Castle Rock Police Department has adopted and utilized the desirable characteristics of the breed to help serve and protect our community. Last month, the Town said a final farewell to one of the department’s respected service dogs, K-9 Legion.
Legion, first came to Castle Rock, by way of Texas, in October of 2008. After narrowing down the pool from a sea of some 200 dogs, he stood out from the pack after passing a battery of tests that could mirror a show like ‘American K-9 Ninja.’ “We have a series of tests that we put all our dogs through,” commented K-9 Officer Todd Thompson.
The agility and temperament tests the dogs are put through resemble real-world scenarios. This is done to see how they might react on the job under the handler’s command in simulated situations. “We want to make sure that they are okay in dark rooms, on slick floors, and make sure that they are okay in agitation,” Officer Thompson noted.
Officers and handlers are looking to recognize and observe specific characteristics in the chosen K-9. They want to be confident that the dog has natural fight drive, void of fear. “If I come out in a suit, he’ll stand his ground and go, ‘you look interesting…’ Instead of tucking his tail and going back to his kennel,” Thompson added, “That’s not going to do me any good on the street.”
Passing with flying colors, it was 2008 when Legion was selected to leave Texas and come to Castle Rock. After bonding with his handler, he gracefully followed in the footsteps of his predecessor, K-9 Jax, becoming a welcomed guest at area schools, along with apprehending numerous suspects.
“Each dog is unique and each dog has a different personality. Legion knew when we were working and he knew when we were off,” Officer Thompson said. “We did several demos in schools and the kids loved him.”
During a career, that included 581 deployments, he helped the Castle Rock Police Department K-9 Unit and outside agencies including ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement). It was an honor to be part of only a handful of K-9’s in the state of Colorado on that team. When Legion was not working in Town, his skills were being utilized around the metro area and at Denver International Airport.
But when given the cue from his handler in German, Legion’s demeanor would radically change to systematically trained, perking his ears for his next command. Often the command would kick in his talent for sniffing out narcotics. “He was great on the street,” Officer Thompson smiled. “Legion was also really good at tracking down narcotics and criminals.”
“Castle Rock Police K-9 Officer Brown (and his K-9 partner Titan), and myself are both cross designated as task force agents with ICE,” he stated. “They can call us and say that we need a drug dog or protection work on a warrant pickup. At the airport, sometimes you won’t see us at all because the dogs are sniffing most of the international luggage that’s coming in, looking to locate illegal narcotics.”
The toll of K-9 work
Entering his fifth year of service, in 2013, Officer Thompson began to notice that Legion was starting to have trouble walking. Legion’s body had begun acting differently after suffering an injury during deployment. “It caused him to lose mobility in his rear legs and his front right leg,” Officer Thompson remembered.
Officer Thompson didn’t hesitate to take him to Dr. Jonathan T. Quint, DVM of Castle Pines Animal Care Center, who donates 100 percent of all K-9 care. After a short exam, the Dr. Quint recommended that he be seen by a neurology specialist. “He referred us to Dr. Stephen B. Lane in Englewood, who it turns out, just happens to be the nation’s foremost neurological dog surgeon,” Officer Thompson smiled. “The cool thing was that I did physically carry him into surgery, but when he came out of anesthesia, he walked out.”
The surgery was a success in restoring the use of his legs, however, the surgeon strongly urged for Legion’s retirement. If Legion were to suffer another injury, the result could be permanently devastating. “We told Chief that Legion had to retire. Without any hesitation he told us to go out and find his replacement – so Legion retired, stayed at home and got fat and happy.”
Legion settled in to his new role as protector of the Thompson home. Two years passed, and on Friday, October 17, K-9 Officer Todd Thompson noticed the health of his friend rapidly deteriorating. “But before I took him to see the vet, we went to the park so we could hang out and eat a couple of hamburgers together,” recalled Officer Thompson.
Later that day, a police procession led a car that transported Legion to the clinic. Officer Thompson carried his partner past the row of police cars and officers standing in respect for Legion through the doors for his last visit. “He came into this world as a police dog and would go out of this world as one,” he said.
Having only been a few weeks since his passing, the void left with Legion’s absence is fresh. “Just when you feel like you get over it, something happens,” K-9 Officer Todd Thompson recalled after answering a recent call from the veterinarian clinic. “We’ve got his ashes.”
However, he understands that’s just part of the job and his K-9 partner, Ronin, has worked with Officer Thompson for the last 18 months. Each dog before Ronin, brought Thompson the knowledge and diverse experience it takes to make a solid K-9 partner. And like Jax, Legion and his service will never be forgotten. Comfort comes knowing that Legion made it to his final resting place. “It’s comforting to know he is at peace and finally home.”
***Many thanks to the Castle Rock Police Department, K-9 Officer Todd Thompson and the Town of Castle Rock for their efforts in assisting with the publishing of this article.***