Chief Mike Conney alerted the community to the sad news with “deep regret” Friday with a touching message on the department Facebook page. The post garnered more than 140 comments from the community expressing their sadness over the loss.
Connet said Obie, a 10-year-old Belgian Malinois, was euthanized following an unexpected illness. His handler for the past two years at the NPD was Officer Hayden Service. Before coming to Norwalk, the dog worked with a different handler at the Willard Police Department.
“He was an outstanding K9 and loyal servant of the citizens of this great city; always ready to place his life in jeopardy for the sake of others,” Conney wrote on Facebook.
Putting him down wasn’t an easy decision, the chief said, but it was obvious that it had became necessary. Still he said Obie and Service found it an “incredibly difficult” decision.
“Officer Service noticed an alarming change in Obie’s mannerisms and behavior that was becoming progressively worse,” Conney said. “Obie was becoming overly aggressive towards others and more alarmingly towards the handler he had developed an extremely strong bond with.”
To discover why Obie was acting so out of character, he was examined by professional trainers, including those at NorthCoast K9. He underwent a complete medical exam and testing at the Mapleview Animal Hospital and The Ohio State University Veterinary Medical Center.
Testing revealed Obie’s neurological reflexes were abnormal and it was suspected his aggression was resulting from an underlying medical disease. The health professionals told the department Obie’s condition would become worse over time, changing him further from the dog they had come to know and love. They said Obie’s quality of life would only continue to diminish if no action was taken.
“Based on recommendations from the examinations it was determined humane euthanasia was the best option to guarantee Obie would not suffer,” Conney wrote. “I want to thank the staff and veterinarians of the Mapleview Animal Hospital and The Ohio State University Veterinary Medical Center for their extremely compassionate care of Obie and their assistance in making this very difficult decision.”
Still, knowing something is the “right decision,” doesn’t necessarily make it, or its after-effects, any easier.
Service described his partner as “very energetic and attention-seeking” and “very possessive” of his cruiser, kennel and owner. Some would say Service had a dog, but in reality, Obie seemed to think he was the owner and Service was his beloved pet.
“He was very possessive,” Service said. “He was fine if he could see me. He’d be OK if he could just be right beside me or touching me. He was just very possessive of me.”
The feelings were mutual.
“It’s a lot of time you spend together,” Service said of the last two years he got to spend with Obie. “It’s a constant thing. He lives at home with me and goes to work with me and when we’re not at work, we’re training.
“It’s still kind of a big change. So much of your life, in and out of work revolves around him. It’s an adjustment. (I’m) still trying to get used to that. It affects your whole day. It affects when when you have to plan to leave in the morning, feeding him and now not going out and playing with him during the day. It’s a lot of things.
“He was obsessed with me. No matter what I did he was always there; all he wanted to do was be with me and got to work. ... He just lived to go to work.”
An accomplished life
Obie initially came to Norwalk after serving at the Willard Police Department for about seven years. He a dual purpose — tracking and “signal for dope” and other substances of abuse. Service said they realized Obie was excelling and mostly needed in the drug work. Eventually that became his sole job.
“He did accomplish a lot,” Service said. “With the drug problem the way it’s been, we needed him there. He had several drug-finds and alerts that led to felony convictions.”
Service said Obie was a key component in the department, along with its other police dog, Joker, who is handled by officer Nick Weber.
“He was especially (important) to me and Nick Weber,” Service said.
“Our sole focus the past few years was training the dogs and implementing them in the department. So we’d go out and chase the other guys around as they (were) making stops. We’d still handle calls like everybody else, but the purpose was to employ (Obie and Joker) to fight the drug problem, obviously with marijuana, but mainly ones like meth and heroin and other drugs that lead to other offenses like breaks-ins and thefts and other felonies.”
There’s now a gap not just in their hearts, but in the department itself.
Service said he and the department are still “trying to adjust” to the loss and the gap it’s left. He said the department hasn’t had time to meet to discuss the details of how it will proceed — whether or when it will look into replacing Obie.
He said one thing’s for sure though, the community’s support of the NPD’s K9 program is overwhelming.
“We’ve had a lot of support since it was revamped,” Service said. “The American Legion and Gaymont (Care & Rehabilitation) really spearheaded that. Then we’ve had people reach out personally and from businesses reaching out to support it. We’re really fortunate how supportive everyone is.”
Unlike “a lot of backlash that bigger cities might get,” he said Norwalk maintains its support.
“We just have a really great relationship with the community,” the officer added.
If the time does come for fundraising efforts, Service said he hopes that support and relationship will continue, but getting a service dog “is a big process.”
“You have to plan ahead of time. It’s a process that we’d like to start eventually. We’d like to plan it out right, finding the right dog,” he said.
“You have to factor in the dog and the training, but it can be $8,000 to $15,000. It’s a huge investment and that’s why we take it so seriously. That’s not to mention the cruiser, the kennel, the food and everything else.”
Service said the department has received a lot of support from NorthCoast K9 throughout the process with Obie’s unfortunate death and before that, with his training.
“I’d just like to mention Nick and Tammie Blackford and NorthCoast K9 have been huge with all of this and all their time training,” he said. “They’re extremely supportive and helped with previous dogs too. We’re appreciative of them and they don’t get the all appreciation they deserve for all they do.”
Being Obie’s handler is something Service will never forget — a time that he’ll continue to cherish.
“It was only two years,” he said, “and it was a great two years. It’s just unfortunate it couldn’t be longer.”