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Calif. Police K-9 Injured During Training Exercise

An award-winning Petaluma police dog was to undergo surgery Wednesday after suffering a spinal injury when he fell Monday during a training exercise.

Rico, an 8-year-old Belgian Malinois, has been the partner of Officer Mike Page since 2007. He is a "dual use" canine officer, meaning he is trained to apprehend suspects and sniff out illegal drugs.

During routine practice Monday night, Rico fell from a 15-foot ledge inside a business, Lt. Tim Lyons said. He was rushed to a veterinarian with neck and possible internal injuries.

"We're hoping for a positive outcome," he said.

Rico has apprehended five wanted suspects, including two known gang members, a suspect wanted for assault with a deadly weapon and a man who had escaped from police custody using a hidden handcuff key, Lyons said.

That suspect, Joshua Begley, evaded officers until Rico found him in a landscaping supply yard and took him back into custody. Three days later, after being released, Begley murdered a Rohnert Park guitarist, for which he is serving a life sentence.

As a certified drug detection dog, Rico has been responsible for the seizure of over 1,000 pounds of processed marijuana, 16 pounds of methamphetamine, one pound of cocaine and one pound of heroin. The street value of the drugs exceeds $4 million, Lyons said.

In addition, Rico has helped find about $1 million dollars in cash used in illegal activities.

Rico competed in almost two dozen police dog trials, during which he won 66 individual trophies, including two "Top Dog" awards, five second-place overall finishes and 10 first-place event finishes.

Page declined to comment through a friend.

"This is not just his pet; this is his partner," said Sgt. Ken Savano. "They've done a lot together. Whether it's chasing bad guys or finding drugs and guns and cash, they're crime-fighters together."

Sgt. Ed Crosby, who supervises the canine unit, said Rico and Page have an especially strong relationship.

"His bond with Mike is hard to convey in words," he said. "You can see when the dog looks at his handler and in how obedient he is. He will literally defend his handler with his life if necessary."

Donations for Rico's veterinary care can be sent to the police department, 969 Petaluma Blvd. N., Petaluma 94952, under the heading of K-9 Fund, Attn: Rico.

Copyright 2013 - The Press Democrat, Santa Rosa, Calif.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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