Retirement was far too short for city’s first K9 officer

Rasko euthanized after surgeons discovered tumors near his heart
By Dan Aznoff | May 17, 2018
Courtesy of: Mill Creek Police Department Mill Creek Officer Ian Durkee and his partner Rasko were inseparable. The highly-trained black German Shepard was euthanized earlier this month shortly after doctors discovered what they thought was cancer during a procedure to drain fluid from around the dog’s heart. Rasko had been with the department since 2013 and was credited with 32 arrests from 130 deployments during his abbreviated career. Durkee was not available to comment on the emotional loss of his partner.

Rasko never really wanted to retire.

The first four-legged member of the Mill Creek police department was removed from active service in March, a full year ahead of schedule after his partner/handler Officer Ian Durkee noticed the black German Shepard having trouble breathing and an distended abdomen.

When his veterinarian detected an elevated heart rate, the dog was scheduled for surgery at the Washington State University Veterinary Teaching Hospital in Pullman.

Police Chief Greg Elwin said he fully expected the canine to have several months of “the good life” lounging on the grass and playing fetch at home with Durkee after he stepped away from chasing bad guys.

“The surgery was going well until the doctors noticed small tumors near the heart that suggested cancer,” Elwin said. “The dog never fully recovered. The doctors said he was unable get enough oxygen into his system.”

The decision to euthanize Rasko, said Elwin, was emotional for Durkee and every other officer on the force. His handler was on personal leave and not available to comment on the loss of his partner.

“The other officers considered Rasko a full member of the force,” Elwin said. The dog began his tenure in Mill Creek in 2013, a full three years before Elwin was named chief of the department.

Rasko specialized in pursuing and tracking suspects and to protect other officers. Joni Kirk, the city’s director of communications and marketing, said Rasko was especially effective as an ambassador for the city during public events.

“Children loved him,” Kirk said. “It always amazed me that the same dog that could take down bad guys on a trail could be so gentle with every child who approached him at parades and street fairs.”

The city’s experience with its first canine officer was so positive that the City Council approved a new service dog to replace Rasko when he was expected to retire in 2019.

The city’s first K9 unit was called upon 130 times and was an integral part of 32 arrests during his tenure with the department. Rasko was also dispatched to neighboring cities when his specialized abilities could be utilized.

“He had a very good career,” Elwin said.

The city’s second service dog, another black Shepard named Bagira, completed his training ahead of schedule and began his duties with the department this spring. For a period of time, the dogs worked separate shifts to provide both protection and security in the city.

Rasko received advanced training for pursuit in critical situations. In addition to pursuit, Elwin said Bagira also excels at detecting contraband and has been used in homeless encampments and on traffic stops to undercover drugs.

“Mill Creek has grown and our needs have expanded since Rasko first went on duty,” Elwin said. The chief said he would budget for a second K9 team in the next spending cycle.

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