Fallen K-9s Honored at Annual Memorial Service

June 6, 2024
The annual K-9 memorial service honors these brave animals at the National Law Enforcement Memorial in Washington, D.C., during Police Week.

Dogs have been used for centuries in military campaigns and police work. In France during the fourteenth century, dogs were first used for police work when they guarded the naval installations at St. Malo. In 1907, the New York Police Department (NYPD) created the first K-9 unit in the United States. Since then, dogs have become an integral part of police departments. Any K-9 handler will tell you they are much more than a four-legged animal. There is an unbreakable bond between handler and dog that begins when they are first paired together. Many of these dogs serve their community proudly until their retirement. But sadly, many do not, giving their lives in the sacrifice of others. 

The annual K-9 memorial service honors these brave animals at the National Law Enforcement Memorial in Washington, D.C., during Police Week. It is sponsored and organized by the National Police Dog Foundation, formed in 1998 by a group of volunteers to support the K-9 program for the City of Ventura, California. It quickly grew into a national organization supporting K-9 programs nationwide. 

First held in 2018, the K-9 memorial service is relatively recent. Judy Reilly, President of the Board of Directors of the National Police Dog Foundation, explained how the K9 memorial service was started. After realizing there was no memorial or event honoring these brave animals, they approached the board of the National Law Enforcement Officer Memorial Fund to hold an annual ceremony. Reilly said that since they have been hosting this event, K-9 handlers have expressed their appreciation to the National Police Dog Foundation. Deputy Zachary Oliver, a K-9 officer with the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office (CO), echoed that sentiment, “I am so grateful that their sacrifices are not forgotten…[they] will be remembered for years to come.”

This year’s memorial service honored 26 K-9s who gave the ultimate sacrifice. The service was opened with a joint color guard, with Los Angeles Police Officer Nhut Huynh, presiding as the master of ceremonies. Deputy Zachary Oliver gave the keynote speech. His K-9, Graffit, was the first one killed in 2023. On February 13th, Graffit was shot and killed while pursuing a suspect near the College of Mines campus. The suspect was waiting for Deputy Oliver and Graffit. When Graffit found the suspect behind a tree, he was shot in the heart. A bullet that Deputy Oliver believes was meant for him or another deputy. 

In retelling the fateful events of that night, Deputy Oliver also spoke about the bond between the K-9 and its handler. “The bond between a K-9 and his handler is a remarkable relationship built on trust, respect, and a shared sense of purpose. It goes beyond a typical human-animal connection, as it combines the unique skills and instincts of a highly trained K-9 with the expertise and guidance of a dedicated handler. This bond provides both professional and personal benefits, allowing us to work together effectively and form a deep emotional connection. A handler must earn the respect of his K-9 by demonstrating competence, consistency, and fairness. Likewise, the K-9 respects his handler's authority and relies on his expertise to make decisions that ensure not only success but their safety.”

The ceremony continues with the reading of the names of each of the 26 K-9s who lost their lives. With a rose in hand, the handler walks to the raised seal in the memorial's center. The handler kneels and places the rose on the seal as a tribute to the dog’s sacrifice. Sometimes, the handler is accompanied by a family member, other department members, or their new K-9 partner. For those officers who cannot make the trip to Washington, D.C., a representative, usually from the D.C. Metro Police, stood in their place. 

Here is the list of those K9s honored at the 2024 Police K-9 Memorial Service:

  • K-9 Graffit - Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office, CO - K9 Graffit was shot and killed while assisting in the search of an armed suspect. EOW - February 13, 2023
  • K-9 Champ - Kansas City Police Department, MO - K9 Champ, along with his handler, Officer Jim Muhlbauer, were killed in an automobile accident.  EOW - February 15, 2023
  • K-9 Fredy - Customs and Border Protection - K9 Fredy died from a heart attack during a training incident. EOW - February 15, 2023.
  • K-9 Duke - San Joaquin County Sheriff’s Office, CA - K9 Duke was stabbed while attempting to apprehend a burglary suspect. EOW - February 19, 2023
  • K-9 Lenin - Baytown Police Department, TX - K9 Lenin died from a venomous snake bite during a training exercise. EOW - March 9, 2023
  • K-9 Rudy - Riverside County Sheriff’s Office, CA - K9 Rudy was shot and killed while tracking a wanted felon. EOW - April 14, 2023
  • K-9 Hudson - Kane County Sheriff’s Office, IL - K9 Hudson was shot and killed during the apprehension of a robbery suspect. EOW - May 24, 2023
  • K-9 Santos - Wake County Sheriff’s Office, NC - K9 Santos was inadvertently shot and killed by another police officer while on a track for a suspect. He was the longest-serving K9 in the department’s history, seven years. EOW - May 26 2023
  • K-9 Barrett - Montville Police Department, CT - K9 Barrett died from a brain bleed that he received after multiple punches to the head by a suspect that he had subdued. EOW - June 1, 2023
  • K-9 Chase - Cobb County Police Department, GA -  K9 Chase succumbed to heat-related injuries when the air conditioner malfunctioned in his handler's patrol vehicle. EOW - June 6, 2023
  • K-9 Aron - Houston Police Department, TX - K9 Aron succumbed to heat exhaustion after the temperature monitoring alarm system failed while the patrol vehicle was idling. EOW - June 12, 2023
  • K-9 Harrie - Shreveport Police Department, LA - K9 Harrie died when he suffered heatstroke while tracking subjects who fled on foot after crashing a stolen vehicle. EOW - June 24, 2023
  • K-9 Kuno - Forest Heights Police Department, MO - K9 Kuno died after suffering heatstroke while searching a school building for a burglary suspect. EOW - July 2, 2023
  • K-9 Falco - Gary Police Department, IN - K9 Falco was shot and killed during a canine apprehension of a subject wanted for aggravated battery and reckless endangerment. EOW - July 13, 2023
  • K-9 Sir - San Diego Police Department, CA - K9 Sir was shot and killed on the Mesa College campus while pursuing a shooting suspect. EOW - August 2, 2023
  • K-9 Waro - Clayton County Police Department, GA - K9 Waro was shot and killed while attempting an apprehension of an armed juvenile. EOW - September 2, 2023
  • K-9 Rico - South Carolina Law Enforcement Division, SC - K9 Rico was shot and killed while attempting to apprehend an attempted murder suspect. EOW - September 28, 2023
  • K-9 Deebo - Harris County Sheriff’s Office, GA - K9 Deebo died of complications from swallowing a reward during a demonstration. He had multiple surgeries to unblock his bowel passages, but he developed sepsis, and his kidneys failed. EOW - October 1, 2023
  • K-9 Fredy - Orange County Sheriff’s Office, FL - K9 Fredy was killed when his handler's car was involved in a crash. EOW - October 16, 2023
  • K-9 Rio - Georgia Department of Natural Resources, GA - K9 Rio suffered a fatal heart attack while conducting an article search near the Oconee National Forest. EOW - October 19, 2023
  • K-9 Kenzo - Pima County Sheriff’s Office, AZ - K9 Kenzo was strangled while attempting to apprehend two armed robbery suspects. EOW - October 27, 2023
  • K-9 Fury - Franklin Police Department, OH - K9 Fury was killed when a reckless driver struck the patrol car he was riding in. EOW - November 11, 2023
  • K-9 Bane - Sedgwick County Sheriff’s Office, KS - K9 Bane was strangled while attempting to apprehend a robbery suspect. EOW - November 16, 2023
  • K-9 Max - South Fulton Police Department, GA - K9 Max was shot and killed while tracking an aggravated assault suspect. EOW - November 17, 2023 
  • K-9 Broko - Connecticut State Police, CT - K9 Broko was shot and killed as troopers attempted to serve a felony arrest warrant. EOW - December 21, 2023
  • K-9 Wessel - Lawton Police Department, OK - K9 Wessel was rewarded with a tennis ball after a positive alert on a traffic stop. The ball fractured when he bit down on it, and pieces entered his gastrointestinal tract. He had two surgeries to remove the foreign materials but died from his intestinal injury and surgery complications three weeks later. EOW - January 2, 2014 (It took ten years for K9 Wessel’s death to be classified as a line of duty death).

After all the names were called, 26 roses, representing those K-9s who paid the ultimate price, lie on the bronze seal. A wreath stands guard over it as a tribute to those fallen K-9 heroes. While some of these handlers have gained new K-9 partners, that empty void remains. “Your best friend and greatest partner you ever had leaves this world while you are left here to move on,” said Deputy Oliver. 

My dog is more than my partner you see,

Because he is a very good friend to me.

He's the nose I don't have, the eyes I have not,

He's one of the best partners most cops ain't got.

Day by day we do what we do best,

His four paws never seem to rest.

He always does whatever I ask,

Seeming to enjoy every task.

I know one day his work will be done,

But for now we can only have fun.

For my dog is more than a partner to me,

My dog is my best friend and he always will be 

Credit: K9 Brett Cyr, Texas City Police Department, TX

About the Author

Robert Bowling

Robert Bowling is a retired police officer from Fishers (IN) and Durham (NC) police departments. In retirement, he has continued his passion to honor fallen officers. He is an Ambassador for the National Law Enforcement Memorial, as well as an historical researcher for the Officer Down Memorial Page. He also has a passion for history, focusing primarily on law enforcement history. He is a member of the Police History Society and is the author of the book Wicked Fishers. He currently teaches Criminal Justice for a local high school.

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