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Difficulty of a K9 death: As Davis Co. arranges funeral, UPD handler reflects on loss

Posted at 7:33 PM, Nov 22, 2019
and last updated 2019-11-25 12:18:59-05

DAVIS COUNTY, Utah — The Davis County Sheriff's Office is planning a full line-of-duty funeral service for their K9, "Chopper," who died this week after he escaped from his handler's patrol vehicle at the Sheriff's Office, darted out into traffic, and was hit by a car.

K9 handlers often become best friends with their four-legged partner, and the death can be especially difficult for the officer.

Unified Police Officer Kent Lundberg knows what that bond is like. He's a K9 Officer who works side-by-side with "Spida," a 3-year old German Shepherd.

On Friday, Lundberg and Spida practiced commands and training in a grassy field in Midvale.

Spida often looked intently at Lundberg, waiting for his next command.

At one point, Lundberg gave the signal for Spida to track a human scent in the field. After diligently sniffing and wandering all over, Spida located the object with the scent.

The dog bowed down to Lundberg, his tail wagging.

"Is that it?" Lundberg asked. "You got it? You got it?"

While Spida is usually on it, he does have his moments.

Lundberg practiced bites with Spida, using a padded arm sleeve. After Spida successfully bit, he pulled the sleeve from Kent and started to trot away.

"No!" Kent commanded, but Spida paid no attention. "Ah, ah! Here, here, here."

Eventually, Spida came back. "Sometimes he can be bad," Lundberg said.

It proved that even if he is a police officer, Spida is still a dog after all.

"You just can't predict what's going to happen, and what they'll do," he said.

That part can be scary for officers, as evidenced by Chopper escaping the patrol vehicle and running into the road -- right in front of the Sheriff's Office.

"My heart just goes out to the officer," Lundberg said.

He knows first hand how hard that is after his first K9, "Kuno," died in almost the same way a year ago.

"He actually was hit by a car after he escaped out of the back of my personal vehicle," Lundberg explained. He said Kuno had figured out how to press the emergency release button, jumped out, and ran into the road.

Kuno and Chopper are two of several Utah K9s that have passed away by accident. Often they involve unforeseen circumstances or situations out of anyone's control.

Lundberg explained how it's still so difficult to deal with, on so many levels.

"It's not just the handler," he said. "It's all the people that are training with him. It's the other officers in the unit, other officers in the department."

He described how a lot of time, emotions and resources are poured into training and caring for police K9s.

After what happened with Kuno last year, Lundberg said he's now overly cautious with Spida.

A year later, the two now have a special bond that Lundberg said he wouldn't trade for the world.

Services for Chopper are scheduled for Tuesday, December 3 in Davis County. The Sheriff's Office said the exact location is still being worked out. The service will start at 11 a.m. and Davis County said all K9s and handlers with their families, along with the public, are welcome to attend.