By Candace Sipos -- email@example.com
WINCHESTER -- "Putting your first work dog down -- that's like losing a child."
Sgt. Thomas Young of the Berkeley County (W.Va.) Sheriff's Office still gets teary-eyed thinking about his German shepherd named Sultan, who was put down in December because he had fluid around his lungs and heart.
Sultan retired from the K9 unit of the Sheriff's Office almost exactly a year earlier, but he was with Young until the day he died, just like Max stayed by the side of his handler, Deputy Jonathan Pyles of the Frederick County Sheriff's Office, until he died in January.
"I know what [Pyles] is going through," Young said Wednesday after a nonprofit organization that helps local law enforcement officers -- the West Virginia chapter of the Defenders Law Enforcement Motorcycle Club -- surprised Young with a plaque displaying black-and-white pictures of him and Max, a Belgian Malinois.
Max was almost 11 when he died, according to Pyles.
"A good police dog is indispensable in my mind," said Sheriff Robert T. "Bob" Williamson of the Frederick County Sheriff's Department. "Max was one of the better, if not the best, dogs we ever had."
Max was with Pyles nearly 24 hours of every day and often accompanied him for the entirety of his shifts, even if he wasn't needed for every call, according to Williamson.
Pyles, a certified police dog handler, shipped Max over from Holland and trained him himself. He was one of four canines on the unit, but after the dogs started retiring, the county couldn't afford to replace them.
One police dog can cost $6,500 or more, which is exactly how much an undisclosed local businessman paid for a new canine, which he has donated to the Frederick County Sheriff's Office, Williamson said. In fact, the local benefactor bought two -- Dax, a 3-year-old German Shepherd, and Saro, a 16-month-old Dutch shepherd and Belgian Malinois mix.
Dax came from a police department in Pennsylvania that recently cut its K9 unit after budget restraints. The local businessman bought the dog for $1,000, but that police department had paid $8,000 for him, Pyles said.
Pyles, along with Deputy Jason Walthen, are in their second week of training the dogs, a process that could last six to 13 weeks, according to Pyles.
Williamson plans to hold a press conference soon to reveal the name of the benefactor.
Pyles wholeheartedly agrees that putting down Max was like losing a family member.
"At least," he said. "Maybe a little bit more. ... They're with you 24 hours a day, and when they're gone, it's definitely a lifestyle change.
"It's part of their equipment that they take to work on a daily basis, only it has a personality and it's living and breathing," Williamson said. "I would venture to guess that Jonathan probably felt as good having Max as a backup than any guy who could provide him, maybe better."