Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Pasco deputy mourns the loss of loyal police dog Lee

Deputy Robert Wilkins kneels between his two patrol dogs, Copper, left, and Lee. Lee died unexpectedly Monday morning.

Photo courtesy of Robert Wilkins

Deputy Robert Wilkins kneels between his two patrol dogs, Copper, left, and Lee. Lee died unexpectedly Monday morning.

NEW PORT RICHEY — Mornings this week have been different. Empty. Pasco sheriff's Deputy Robert Wilkins hasn't gotten ready for work alone in nearly eight years.

He used to spend almost all of his waking moments shadowed by a dark figure, fluffy with pointed ears, a wet nose and deep brown eyes: Lee.

The black German shepherd knew the sound of Wilkins' jingling patrol SUV keys. They made him scramble out the door, ready for the ride. Wilkins said Lee loved going to work.

They didn't choose each other. Lee, then a 1 1/2-year-old imported from the Czech Republic, was a police dog issued to Wilkins by the Pasco County Sheriff's Office.

"You get what you get," Wilkins said. "They're like people. All have their own personalities."

Man and dog forged their bond over 600 hours of training. Tracking, searching buildings and detecting narcotics. Wilkins said Lee could read his stress through all of the sessions. He was an excitable dog at work. Calm at home with Wilkins' wife Rose, son Jacob and hound Copper.

They were quick to find out that Lee was one of the pack.

He was known for burrowing his head under the hand of anyone on the couch. He made nightly welfare checks while the family slept, prodding them with his wet nose just enough to make them stir in their sleep to know they were safe.

In training, Lee showed high drive but a short attention span that made his master laugh.

During long training scenarios, Wilkins said, Lee would sometimes stop and stare off into space until a command would snap him back into duty.

In other scenarios, Lee would drop his toys in front of "bad guys," urging them to play. He did it a few times on duty, too.

"He didn't care who you were," Wilkins said. "He'd play with you."

At work, they tracked suspects, conducted narcotics searches and set up SWAT perimeters. At home, once every six months or so, Lee would gnaw the heels off Rose's shoes. Wilkins would have to take her shopping.

Like all canine unit dogs, Lee was trained to meet aggression with aggression on duty. But Wilkins remembers Lee bending to the will of a toddler when Jacob, now 13, would tell him to "go lay down."

By the time Lee was 9, gray powdered his muzzle. He had slowed a little. Wilkins said it's common for working dogs Lee's age to develop bone spurs that can numb their hind legs.

On Friday, he took Lee to the veterinarian for a check-up. The vet took an X-ray of Lee but came back with startling news.

Lee had developed a tennis ball-sized mass on his spleen.

"Was it something he ate?" Wilkins asked.

"No," the vet told him. It was a tumor. He figured Lee had six months left in him.

The vet did blood work and sent them home with antibiotics.

But Lee faded faster, much faster, than the vet predicted.

On Sunday, he refused food and water. That night, there was no welfare check.

Monday morning, Rose was getting ready for work early when she called back to her husband.

"Can you go check on Lee?" she asked him. "I don't think something's right."

"Lee!" Wilkins called, expecting the dog's head to pop up from the front door spot where he slept. But Lee was still.

Wilkins went over and shook him, but he was gone.

Now, mornings are lonely. There's a spot missing on daily patrol. Copper noticed it, too. Earlier this week, the hound searched every room in the house after seeing the empty dog bed next to his own.

The Sheriff's Office said it will issue Wilkins another dog if he wants.

There will not be a memorial service for Lee, Wilkins said. He's not sure what he'll do. He said he needs time to clear his mind.

On the side of his patrol SUV, under the canine unit sticker are still two names, monogrammed in cursive "Copper & Lee." Wilkins hasn't brought himself to correct it.

"As far as I'm concerned," he said, "it can stay for a while."

Alex Orlando can be reached at or (727) 869-6247.

Pasco deputy mourns the loss of loyal police dog Lee 01/23/13 [Last modified: Wednesday, January 23, 2013 7:42pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Florida: White man who killed black person to be executed

    State Roundup

    GAINESVILLE — For the first time in state history, Florida is expecting to execute a white man for killing a black person — and it plans to do so with help of a drug that has never been used previously in any U.S. execution.

    This undated photo provided by the Florida Department of Corrections shows Mark Asay. If his final appeals are denied, Asay is to die by lethal injection after 6 p.m. Thursday. Asay was convicted by a jury of two racially motivated, premeditated murders in Jacksonville in 1987.  [Florida Department of Corrections via AP]
  2. Ex-TPD sergeant LaJoyce Houston takes plea deal in stolen tax refund case


    TAMPA — LaJoyce Houston, a former Tampa police sergeant accused with her husband in a federal tax refund fraud scheme, has agreed to plead guilty to receiving stolen government property, court records state.

    Former Tampa police officers Eric and LaJoyce Houston walk into the Sam Gibbons U.S. District Courthouse on Oct. 28, 2015, to face charges relating to stolen identity tax refund fraud. [SCOTT KEELER    |      TIMES
  3. Deputies: Vet who practices in Gulfport, Port Richey abused animals at Lakeland home


    LAKELAND – A veterinarian who practices part-time in Gulfport and Port Richey was arrested Tuesday along with her husband after Polk County Sheriff's Office deputies found more than 30 severely …

    Veterinarian Gail Nichols, 66, (above) who practices in Gulfport and Port Richey, was arrested Tuesday along with her husband Paul Smith, 74, after Polk County deputies found more than 30 severely abused animals at their Lakeland home. The two are each facing several counts of felony animal cruelty, among other charges, after at least 38 horses, birds and dogs were found at 3211 West Bella Vista Street in dire states and in filthy, unlivable conditions. [Polk County Sheriff's Office]
  4. Bucs Cannon Fodder podcast: Several key players still sidelined


    Greg Auman gives an injury update, with several key players still sidelined from practice three days before the Bucs play the Cleveland Browns in Tampa, and a full recap of your favorite scenes from Tuesday …

    Bucs wide receiver Mike Evans was held out of practice Wednesday at One Buc Place. [CHARLIE KAIJO | Times]
  5. Steve Kornell says small fix can help St. Pete's sewage problems


    ST. PETERSBURG— Steve Kornell knows his idea won't put much of a dent in the $326 million bill the city must pay over the next five years to fix its inadequate and outdated sewer system.

    St. Petersburg City Council member Steve Kornell (right) during a 2012 council meeting at City Hall. [SCOTT KEELER  |  Times]