After nearly a decade of chasing down bad guys and finding missing people, an East Hartford police dog and his handler are retiring from the program.
K-9 "Axel" put in nine years of service alongside Officer John Zavalick, a 22-year veteran of the department. Although Zavalick will continue his police work, his days as a K-9 handler are over.
"I would love to continue, but... you want to give the next guy who would really like to be a dog handler, give him that same opportunity I was given," Zavalick said, adding that "it's definitely a young man's job."
Ten-year-old Axel will live out the rest of his days with Zavalick and his family.
"We pay the town of East Hartford $1 to make it a legal transaction and then we take him home with us and he becomes our house pet, really," Zavalick said.
Axel is his second police dog. K-9 "Raven" also worked with Zavalick for nine years. The two went to Ground Zero together after 9/11 and helped recover victims so their families could lay them to rest.
"There's nothing better or more satisfying than being a dog handler," Zavalick said. "I already miss it terribly."
The town recognized Axel and Zavalick at a retirement ceremony Tuesday morning. While Zavalick was honored with a plaque, Axel got his very own cake.
"He was always there, coming up between the seats, licking your face, letting you know everything's going to be all right because he's there," Zavalick recalled. "Although I have not missed the barking in my ear."
East Hartford Police Lt. Timothy Juergens, who heads up the K-9 program, said the town will have to make do without a police dog until the Zavalick and Axel can be replaced. He expects to bring on a new K-9 team within a year's time.
"The service the dogs provide to the town is just wonderful," Juergens said. "We want to maintain the program as it is and continue to be as active as we are both in police work, with tracking suspects and finding missing people, and the public relations, doing demonstrations and other public events."
Farmington K-9 "Drak" also served nine years on the job and retired last week. Most K-9s only do about six years of police work.