Law enforcement officers from across north Georgia gathered at Bearden Funeral Home yesterday to pay tribute to a fallen canine officer, Hector, who died from natural causes in November 2018.
Hector, an 8-year-old Belgian Malinois, was a valued member of the Dawson County Sheriff’s Office since April 2012.
Representatives from the Dawson County Sheriff’s Office, Dawson County Emergency Services, Georgia State Patrol, City of Alpharetta Police, Dunwoody police, Smyrna police, Toccoa police, Greene County, White County and Forsyth County sheriff’s offices and Custom Canines Unlimited came together on National Law Enforcement Appreciation Day to remember Hector’s service to the people of north Georgia.
“Speaking as a pet owner I understand the relationships that form between us and our pets. Although I never handled a canine in a law enforcement capacity I can imagine how great a bond it could be when your partner’s your pet and your pet is your partner,” said Sheriff Jeff Johnson. “When we think about a partner, we think about loyalty. We think about sacrifice. We think about companionship. We think about commitment. There’s no doubt that Hector embodied these qualities. Hector was a valued and productive member of this office and he will be missed.”
For the past four and a half years, Hector served alongside his partner, Cpl. Zach Smith, and apprehended fleeing suspects, uncovered narcotics and found lost children.
Chaplain Charles Blackstock spoke of Hector’s attributes and his vital role with the sheriff’s office as he protected his partner on duty and returned home as a family pet.
“He was good at what he did, but he was also gentle. It’s amazing – we all struggle with this – from leaving our work zones to our family zones and being in the intensity of what we do to stepping back into our home life,” Blackstock said. “It’s amazing how well Hector could do that because he could get out of that patrol car and go up the walk and get into the home and become the family dog.”
Hector was remembered fondly for his ability to transition from his aggressive demeanor that intimidated suspects to becoming gentle and tender when searching for lost children in the woods. His ability to differentiate between situations impressed Blackstock the most.
“If he was called upon to track down a perpetrator or somebody that had fled the scene or somebody that he knew was maybe armed and dangerous he was very aggressive and fearless, and he would pursue that individual with all the aggression his heart could muster,” Blackstock said. “On the other hand if it was a missing child or a wandering Alzheimer’s individual, he went by it with a totally different demeanor. He knew what situation he was addressing. How his training prepared him for that I don’t know. Perhaps it was just something Hector was good at.”
Hector was trained through Custom Canines Unlimited. Representatives from the training organization were also present to express their condolences to the Smith family and the sheriff’s office.
“There’s a lot of things that we try to address in training… we attempt to prepare them for what they will face in the upcoming years,” said Custom Canines Unlimited representative A.J. Parks. “One thing we never do is prepare our handlers for this situation.”
Looking around the chapel and seeing the tremendous outpouring of love and support from not only Dawson County but surrounding agencies who were affected by Hector’s service, Parks reminded the Smith family and those gathered that law enforcement is a family, a community, that comes together to support one another in times of grief.
“There’s people in this room that probably don’t even know (Hector and Smith). Guys, that’s what we do as a community in law enforcement,” Parks said. “(Smith) couldn’t prepare for this, but when he looks around the room and receives the hugs and support for him and his family he’ll never forget that either – and that will far surpass the loss he’s feeling right now. He will always be grateful and appreciative to each and every one of you guys.”
As the ceremony concluded, Hector’s ashes were collected from the front of the chapel and the Smith family and Johnson were saluted by the numerous law enforcement officers as Smith carried Hector’s ashes.
“There will be other canines, but there will be no more Hectors,” Blackstock said.
Canine units from Dawson and surrounding counties gathered in the front of Bearden Funeral Home to salute their fallen comrade.
As the police cars slowly dispersed from the funeral home, those in attendance left with the parting message from Blackstock of a valuable lesson everyone can learn from Hector.
“As humans we’re sinners in need of a savior. We make mistakes. We have prejudices. Sometimes we get angry. Sometimes we get frustrated. Sometimes we deal with situations in less than ideal manors. But what’s amazing about K9 Hector would be his ability to deal with individual situations very properly,” Blackstock said. “Hector didn’t see color. He didn’t see white or black or brown. He didn’t see nationality or race. He didn’t see Caucasian, Hispanic. On a stop he wouldn’t care if the person was driving a $5,000 beater or a $150,000 sports car. All Hector saw was right and wrong, good and evil, and he was trained… He just could deal with circumstances based on what is right and what is wrong.”