ROCK CREEK, Ohio - A policeman and his K-9 depend on each other often in life and death circumstances.
City of Ashtabula patrolman and first-time K-9 handler James Hildebrand and his dog, Kero, have been a constant duo since the dog was 13 months old.
Kero's heroic life was detailed by Hildebrand on Friday. Hildebrand wanted the 5-year-old German shepherd to be remembered for saving lives. Kero's life will be cut short within six months after a biopsy found a tumor on his rear, inner leg. It was diagnosed as being osteosercoma, a fast-growing form of cancer in young dogs.
Kero, named by Hildebrand because he thought it was unique, has parents who were born and raised in Germany. Kero was the first generation to be born in America.
Hildebrand purchased him with the help of donations for K-9 handlers in Summerville, Ohio. The purchase price with expenses can be upward of $8,000.
"We work 12-hour shifts and he's in the car right over my shoulder," said Hildebrand. "The bond is really strong between us."
Hildebrand's wife keeps a scrapbook in their home filled with the K-9 unit's accomplishments. Kero's first takedown of a criminal came after Hildebrand wanted to warn a snowmobiler to stay off Ashtabula city roads.
"The man on the snowmobile took off leading several of us on a high speed chase through yards until he crashed into a tree and took off on foot," Hildebrand said. "We initially thought it was a robbery suspect, matching the description of one we had been looking for."
"I released Kero, commanding him to track the suspect after warning the suspect of my intent. He fought Kero, but lost, getting puncture wounds in his leg," Hildebrand said. "His first takedown and arrest turned out to have a backpack filled with meth lab equipment, instead of being the robbery suspect, but turned out to be on Ashtabula County's most wanted list at the time."
Kero's time left in service is unknown.
"It depends on his level of pain, but he loves to be in the patrol car and that's where he is the happiest, so we'll keep doing that until he can't anymore," said Hildebrand.
The impact on Ashtabula County will be felt when Kero dies. He is known to not only the criminals who were trapped and captured by him, but he also has a reputation in the law enforcement as the dog to have in an emergency.
Hildebrand recalled one State of Ohio trooper who was the recipient of Kero's heroics after being assaulted by a criminal on a traffic stop.
"He's known by many officers as being the baddest dog out there," said Hildebrand. "He'll really be missed."
K-9 handlers, like Hildebrand, rely exclusively on donations to keep the program alive. There are currently three K-9 handlers in Ashtabula.
For more information on K-9 handlers, or donations email: firstname.lastname@example.org