By Joe Beck
WINCHESTER -- Kota, the police dog whose injury in the line of duty transformed him into a worldwide celebrity, took a bow Thursday with his handler before an audience of about 50 at a dinner and awards ceremony.
The Woodmen of the World Chapter 34 saluted Kota and Cpl. Brittney Kotynski-Neer for their bravery during the arrest of two burglary suspects in January and for Kota's ongoing rehabilitation from injuries suffered in the incident.
Kota entered the Community Center bright-eyed and alert with tail wagging and showing few signs of his injury.
Police Chief Kevin Sanzenbacher and State Sen. Jill Vogel, R-Upperville, were among those paying tribute.
"We're very proud of Brittney and Kota not only for what they did on the night he was injured but for how they handled the situation afterward," Sanzenbacher said.
Kotynski-Neer, who has overseen Kota's rehabilitation from the broken leg he suffered after falling through a floor during the arrest of the two burglary suspects, said she has reflected on the meaning of heroism since then.
"Anyone who was on the team that night and heard Kota crash through the ceiling and yelp from the floor below cannot deny he was in pain," Kotynski-Neer said. "Scholars can argue all day that animals aren't capable of feeling love or being courageous, but they can't say they don't feel physical pain."
Kota worked his way up the steps and back to the second floor after suffering his injuries and was present as Kotynski-Neer and other officers captured both suspects.
"What I can say now is that his actions that night were the very definition of brave and therefore heroic," Kotynksi-Neer said of Kota.
Kota has undergone three surgeries to repair the broken leg and one to two hours of daily rehabilitation overseen by Kotynski-Neer.
In an interview after delivering remarks to the audience, Kotynski-Neer said Kota most recently underwent an operation to fix a bolt in his elbow that had started to back out.
"It was a small setback, but even after surgery, he hasn't lost his range of motion," Kotynski-Neer said.
Kotynski-Neer estimated that Kota, who is 6 years old, will return to duty "toward August."
She said the rehabilitation has involved walking 40 to 45 minutes a day, stretching exercises, stepping through a ladder placed on the ground and even workouts on an underwater tread mill.
Kota's story went viral on social media within days after he was injured and drew messages of support from fans around the world.
"It's still overwhelming," Kotynski-Neer said of their celebrity status, which included a trip to Los Angeles to appear on a national TV show.
Kota has been kept away from police dog training activities during his rehabilitation out of concern he would become too excited and reinjure himself, Kotynski-Neer said.
"He's bored," Kotynski-Neer said. "He's tired of being cooped up."
Contact staff writer Joe Beck at 540-465-5137 ext. 142, or firstname.lastname@example.org