On February 9, the Salt River Police Department lost one of its beloved K-9s, Officer Hunter, who had been with the department for 10 years. Hunter was always a loyal companion to his handler, Officer Darryl Garcia.
Hunter, a Belgian Malinois, retired from the SRPD in March 2014 at age 13 (equivalent to 91 in dog years).
“We got Hunter in February 2004. He went through 320 hours of rigorous K-9 training and learned the basics of obedience training, handler control, bite work and detecting narcotics,” said Garcia.
Every morning when the handler and his K-9 woke up, it was immediate obedience routines and detection work. “He was trained to show an aggressive alert, which meant when he detected something there would be a change in his breathing along with aggressive scratching with his paws at the location,” said Garcia.
Hunter was known for his unique nose, especially for tracking. “The neat thing was, if the narcotics target was in a case or a purse, he would bring the object out to us like he was saying ‘Here it is,’” shared Garcia.
Hunter’s great skill at tracking a human scent was put to work in a kidnapping case that started in Glendale and ended in Fountain Hills. The sheriff notified the SRPD in hopes of getting assistance from Hunter. Hunter tracked two miles from the location where the vehicle was left abandoned to where the person was hiding in a tree. Hunter was able to apprehend the kidnapper.
In another case, Hunter located an individual who was stealing copper from a closed facility in the Pavilions. A call was made that the individual was inside the building, and when the officers arrived, the individual hid.
“Hunter let us know the perpetrator was located within the building. The officers searched high and low but could not locate the individual. Hunter stayed at the same corner where he found a scent, and no one could figure where the individual was. The individual was stuck and injured in a vent right over the K-9, and we had to send in a crew to cut into the wall to save the individual,” said Officer D. Garcia.
If Hunter had not detected the injured man, Garcia said, he most likely would have died from his injuries while remaining stuck in the wall, and no one would have known. Hunter was nominated for a Life-Saving Award.
Hunter was a very hard-working dog, and his accelerations and take-offs were starting to strain his bones and tendons. That’s what led to his retirement.
After his retirement, Hunter lived in Garcia’s household, “where he became the protector of my family and home,” said Garcia.
Still, Hunter’s work was never done. He spent time with a younger K-9 officer, Red, that Garcia trained along with the help of Hunter. “He showed Red the ropes and pretty much trained him,” said Garcia with a laugh.
Because of the pain he was in, in February Hunter was put to sleep to stop the suffering.
Along with earning the Life-Saving Award, Hunter was also known for finding a bank robber who fled into a field off the Loop 101 Freeway, which resulted in Hunter suffering a wound inflicted by the armed suspect while in the line of duty.
Garcia added that Hunter loved his McDonald’s French fries. When he was at home, Garcia’s kids loved to hide Hunter’s toys and treats, but that would result in a few pieces of furniture getting torn up.
Hunter was looked upon as a role model within the department and also with other police agencies, and he will be missed by all.