SAUGET — The sound of whimpers, whines, howls and barks could be heard as Granite City police officer Eric Bailey was overwhelmed with support on Dec. 11 when he and his wife, Christine, were accompanied by family and fellow K-9 officers to the East-West Police K-9 training grounds.
It seemed as though the dogs were there to mourn and honor Bailey’s fallen K-9 partner Kof, too.
The memorial service to place Kof to rest after he lost a short battle with lymphoma Dec. 2 included a procession of police cars that extended more than a half mile and representatives from more than 20 agencies, including St. Louis County and Scott Air Force Base.
A German shepherd born in the Slovak Republic, Kof was almost 8 years old when he was diagnosed on Nov. 11 with lymphoma, a type of cancer that originates in the immune system. He and Bailey completed the K-9 academy in 2008 in Indiana before their partnership began with the Granite City Police Department.
“Kof was a great partner and a great friend,” Bailey said. “I refer to Kof as a light-switch dog. He was completely friendly with my family, wonderful with my son and other kids, but when it was time to go to work, he had an intensity that I’ve never seen before — he had absolute focus.”
The bond between handlers and their K-9s is a connection that many don’t understand. An officer’s K-9 partner resides with the handler and their family in their home during their time off duty. The K-9 is ultimately a member of the family.
“It really is like losing a family member,” Christine Bailey said. “We have loved having him as a part of our home; we really miss him. Things haven’t felt normal yet without him. We are so thankful they are doing this service to Kof. He is an officer just the same and these dogs deserve the same rights and respect as those who handle them.”
O’Fallon officer Keith Lewis officiated the graveside memorial service for Kof and knows firsthand the heartache of losing a K-9 partner. Lewis was the handler of K-9 Rex, who was nationally recognized when he served the city of O’Fallon from 2001 to 2009. After Rex retired from service, he resided with Lewis permanently.
“Losing Kof was sudden,” Bailey said. “We tried radiation and he responded well to it at first, but then he went downhill. After another round he did well for about a week and then his bloodwork showed the cancer was too severe.”
Bailey was not new to having a four-legged partner, having been a handler to K-9 Blek before his passing in 2007.
“I thought after going through this with Blek that it might be a little easier,” Bailey said. “I think it’s actually harder with Kof. The bond Kof and I had, it’s not just him riding around in the car — I literally spent more time with him than I did my family. Kof and I worked together in some very intense situations and the trust that must be there in those times — I can’t explain it. He has come out of that car to save me; you can’t put that kind of bond into words.”
During his time working beside Bailey, Kof had more than 16 apprehensions where he had to subdue a suspect and assisted with arrests in more than 50 other occasions. Bailey said his first experience with Kof tracking a suspect is one he is still most proud of.
“We had been working for several hours in the heat of summer,” Bailey said. “Kof was worn out, his tongue was hanging down to his knees and I had already called in for another K-9 to assist. Just when we were about to stop the search, Kof alerted to an area of tall grass about 50 yards away. He was able to find him at that range and in the overheated condition he was in. I was really impressed by him.”
Bailey described proudly that just weeks before Kof was diagnosed with cancer, he participated in the largest drug bust of his career in October as he discovered 21 pounds of vacuum-sealed hydroponically grown cannabis in a trunk of a vehicle stopped on Interstate 270.
Purina donated a monument and has made donations for the K-9 graveyard in honor of the fallen four-legged heroes. All K-9 handlers have the honor of laying their partners to rest alongside their brothers at no cost to the officers or the department thanks to trivia nights and other fundraisers. One tradition remains as the handlers step forward with their K-9 partners to shovel the dirt into the grave and bury their own.
Anyone wishing to make a contribution can mail the donation to the East-West Police Canine Group, 213 N. Prairie St., Bethalto, IL 62010, Attention: Officer Hartman; or visit www.eastwestk9.com for more information.