The San Joaquin County Sheriff’s Office announced the death of K-9 Haakon on Thursday afternoon.
The canine’s death comes months before he was set to retire from his duties, according to Lt. Randy Johnson.
Haakon was found unresponsive after a training session on Wednesday.
“He had done his walking training that morning before it was too warm. After deputies put him in his kennel, he was found unresponsive 15 minutes later,” Johnson said, adding that the dog was immediately taken to a veterinary hospital.
Tests conducted on Haakon showed that his kidneys were functioning as normal and that he was not suffering from heat exhaustion, Johnson said.
Although Haakon was released on Wednesday evening and was able to walk on his own, he died on Thursday morning.
“Haakon was approaching nine years of age, and he had a large stature. He also had not fully recovered after being stabbed in the neck,” Johnson said, referring to an incident in 2014 in which a fleeing suspect stabbed the K-9 in the neck.
“K-9 Haakon had overcome any and all of the extreme and dangerous challenges,” the sheriff’s department wrote in a Facebook post.
Despite his age, Haakon was still a very active dog who was able to perform his required duties, Johnson said. The dutiful German shepherd had worked alongside Deputy Joshua Stillman since 2013.
“Deputy Stillman and K-9 Haakon have been a rock-solid team that has made countless, positive and lasting impacts on the community. They bravely and proudly served,” the Facebook post read.
The pair had forged a special bond, Johnson said, and joined together in many dangerous pursuits. The duo worked with tactical units during arrests and busts that were more intensive than typical rescue operations.
“Unlike other specialized units, you work with your partner 24/7. You see them more than family. The bond formed can’t be compared to anyone else,” Johnson said. “You rely on each other to get through extremely high-stress situations.”
Johnson said that losing a K-9 is extremely difficult because it affects both family and colleagues.
“The attachment between the officer and dog — it is like losing a part of yourself, especially after seven years,” Johnson said. “You really have to adjust to the idea of not seeing them again. It’s hard.”
Stillman and other K-9 officers have a support system that helps them reacclimate to the work environment following the death of a K-9 partner.
“They push through their loss because they know that their job is to protect and serve their community. That’s the job they are signed up to do,” Johnson said.
The department does offer bereavement leave for officers when a K-9 dies or is killed. The length of the leave is decided on a case-by-case basis.
Johnson said that Stillman will be working deputy patrols upon his return and helping train another K-9 named Poker, who is expected to work patrols in the coming months.