By Joe Beck
WINCHESTER -- Kota, the celebrity police dog, captured hearts around the world with his heroism earlier this year.
Now he is back to helping capture suspects and getting ready to make his national television debut in a few days.
Kota emerged from a squad car Wednesday at the Timbrook Public Safety Center and announced his return to duty with a hearty growl into a microphone mounted on a podium.
His trainer, Winchester police Cpl. Brittney Kotynski-Neer, held him proudly in her arms as cameras clicked away in front of the Timbrook Public Safety Center.
It was nine months to the day since Kota was banged up during the arrest of two burglary suspects. The 6-year-old dog fell 8 feet through a ceiling and onto the hardwood floor below. He crawled back up the steps after suffering a broken leg and stayed close behind Kotynski-Neer and other officers as they arrested the suspects.
Kota's story became a social media sensation with tributes pouring in from fans as far away as Germany, Thailand and Australia. Meanwhile, months of surgeries and rehabilitation began in an effort to restore Kota to his former rugged self.
Kotynski-Neer said Kota's Facebook page remains a lively place.
"It never ceases to amaze me that people are so touched by his story and his continuing efforts to get back to duty. They're inspired by him," Kotynski-Neer said.
Kota's story will get a second wind in the media on Sept. 11 when he is scheduled to appear on the "Today" show as one of eight finalists for the American Humane Association's Hero Dog Awards. Kota has already won the association's top award for dogs in law enforcement. The public is being invited to help choose the overall winner by voting in an online poll that is open until Sept. 15. Anybody wishing to vote for Kota (or any of the other finalists) can do so once every day by visiting http://tiny.cc/g9smlx.
Kota is also scheduled to appear Sept. 27 at the Hero Dog Awards in Beverly Hills, California.
Kota's absence during his recovery left Kotynski-Neer frustrated when she heard police agencies calling over the radio for a drug-sniffing dog. She was unable to help while the back of her squad car was empty.
"I can't even put into words how excited I am to have him back at work, myself and my squad," Kotynski-Neer said of Kota.
Since Kota's return to duty early last week, he has participated in three vehicle searches, one in which he sniffed out an undisclosed amount of marijuana, Kotynski-Neer said.
Despite receiving a clearance to return to duty from his veterinarian, Kota's rehabilitation isn't complete.
Kotynski-Neer said Kota needs to continue physical therapy to prevent him from overworking three of his legs to compensate for the slightly gimpy surgically repaired leg.
"From what I've been told, it's something correctible, and it's going to take a little bit of time for him to work through and get his muscle back to memorizing his proper walking form," Kotynski-Neer said.
Contact staff writer Joe Beck at 540-465-5137 ext. 142, or firstname.lastname@example.org