I seldom if ever make mention of what anyone would consider to be “personal” items on this site. Everyone has their own issues, issues that make mine seem irrelevant. I just feel the absolute necessity to say the following..
Some of you may know that I am a canine officer for the St. Louis police department. March 14, 2011 at 0745, my retired canine partner Basko vom Kokeltal passed away, twelve years and eleven months.
Some may say, “big deal, its just a dog.” This “dog” was responsible for well over two hundred seizures and he personally made it his business to make sure that I made it home every night. That was no “dog”. I had considered whether to “brag” on Basko here, to talk of the many amazing “finds” that he had during his career. I don’t believe that that is what he would have wanted. We just did our job. However, there are a few stories about my buddy that I need to tell.
Before I had actually been placed in the canine section, our head trainer at the time Mike Perkins, called me on the phone and wanted to know if I wanted to go with him up to our training facility to meet what he called, “my dog”.. This was dangerous as I hadn’t been moved yet and I didn’t want to “bond” with the dog even for a minute if I weren’t getting moved into the division. I went anyway.
As we pulled into our canine training facility, Mike pulled the car to a stop inside of the gate. To my right are the kennels and there was only one dog there at the time Basko, and all that I could see was the outline of his ears as he had a very dark black face.. Mike gets out of the driver side of the vehicle and then it happened..
This dog which had been just sitting there.. Staring.. Suddenly began jumping and barking in an almost berserk sort of fashion. He was chewing on the chain link that made up the sides of the kennel. Dog saliva was flying everywhere and the only thing that I could think at the time was, “THIS is the dog that they want to give me?” As Mike made his way along side the kennel to the back door of the facility, the show didn’t end, it actually increased in amperage.. Here I am sitting in the passenger seat.. I remember thinking that I had better get out just to see how he would respond to my presence, after all, he is in a kennel, he can’t get at me..
I opened the passenger side door. As God as my witness, Basko just sat down. He didn’t take his eyes off of me.. Is this good or is this bad.. I walked along side the kennel. Not a sound, not a motion. I walked to the front of the kennel. This is it. There is only one way to find out how this will go, besides the accompanying stitches will make for an interesting story for years to come. I opened the kennel door.
Basko exits the kennel and looks right at me. Mind you, when a “working” dog “stares” at you, it is meant as a confrontation. I did the most illogical thing that anyone could have done in that situation. I leaned over and hugged this dog. When working with “working” dogs, when they are “good dogs”, you verbally praise them in a silly high-pitched voice. I said, “Go get your Binky”.. Imagine, a ninety pound dog dashing away to then return with his rubber Kong toy and drop it at my feet.. (I called his toy a “Binky” which most people call what their infant children gnaw on, but he understood me anyway and from then on it was his “Binky”..) He just wanted to play and play we did..
Basko had actually been the second dog of a handler that had quit the department. The family adored the first dog and Basko sat outside alone for the most part. When the handler quit, Basko sat at the training facility for nearly three months.. I didn’t really know it but he really needed a hug..
The thing that kills a “working” dog is the notion that they no longer “work”. We have had “retired” dogs die in less than two weeks and most of them don’t even last a few months.. I vowed to not allow that to happen to Basko and the only way to do that was to “trick” him into believing that he was still “working”..
I started working with young Daimon, who is trained in the fine art of EOD (explosive ordnance detection) in July of 2009. I kept Basko and Daimon separated by a door in the basement of my home. Every night after I would get home with Daimon, I would feed him and put him up. I would then bust through the door, turn the radio back on and take Basko to “work”.
Basko would then jump into the back of the police car and we would go to one of the dozens of parks in the city. He would do his “obedience”. He would do an “article search”. He would do a narcotics hide. Then he would play ball and get brushed. Dogs have no semblance of time when they sleep, so I would drive around in the car with the police radio on until he went to sleep. I would then pull into the driveway again, let Basko the “still working” dog out and he would be fed.. I think that he really fell for it..
After a very rough night last night, I knew that I had a decision to make. I never wanted to make the decision that God normally makes, but I could not bear to see Basko suffer. He always was completely impervious to pain of any kind. Even though I knew of this high level of tolerance for pain that he had and I could see that he was struggling.
It was actually special this morning as there was nothing in the world Basko loved more than playing in the snow. Out of nowhere, it started snowing quite hard this morning and Basko got to play “snowballs” again for one last time. I would make snowballs and smack him with them. He would try to catch them with his mouth and if a dog ever laughed, this was when Basko was laughing.. His “little brother” Butch, our Jack Russell Terrier and Basko’s best friend in the whole wide world, came out and played with him one last time as well. Even as we awaited the vet to arrive at his office, Basko still wanted to play in the snow.. So we did..
As the vet prepared to make the injection that would still a heart that I thought would never stop beating, he said, “are you ready for this?” I could only look at him and say, “I will never be ready for this but I cannot see him suffer..” This morning, I bear hugged my Basko as he took his last breath at 0745. I now ask myself if I told him often enough just how good of a dog he was. Did I pet him as much as I could have.. Did I hug him as much as I should have.. I only hope and pray that I will get the chance to do so again.. If I am lucky, when its my turn to go, I will see that very same face, sitting there and staring.. Waiting for me to again play with him..
When we train with our dogs, when the training scenario is over we tell our dogs one word to let them know that they can “let down” just for a moment. We tell them that they are “free” and they usually run and jump and celebrate another job well done.
My Basko dog, you are “free”..