PALM HARBOR — The Clearwater Police Department and the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office canine units held their eighth annual K-9 Memorial Service at Curlew Hills Memorial Gardens Pet Cemetery Tuesday.
The service honored five German shepherds that formerly worked for the Sheriff's Office or Clearwater police, as well as Sirius, a yellow Labrador that isn't buried there but was honored because he was the only dog to die on duty at ground zero in New York City on Sept. 11.
The five German shepherds are buried next to dozens of other law enforcement dogs from the area that have been honored at past memorial services. Curlew Hills Memorial Gardens provided the headstones and plots for the dogs for free to honor their service.
"These are officers, really, that serve the public well," said Keenan Knopke, the cemetery's president. "They need to be remembered in the correct fashion."
The honored dogs were Vader, who served in the Sheriff's Office from 2002-2009; Jester, who served from 2004-2011 in the Sheriff's Office; Deuce, a Pinellas canine unit member from 2004-2010; Dodge, a Clearwater police dog from 2003-2007; and Thor, who served as a Pinellas County unit member from 1974-1977 and 1981-1983.
Dozens of current and former handlers, some of them with their dogs, attended the service, which included a sermon by the Rev. Danny McDonald of the North Bay Community Church and a performance of Amazing Grace on bagpipes. The former handlers of all five German shepherds gave speeches recounting the deeds and personalities of their deceased partners.
"I'm sure at some point in my career that dog saved my life," said Pinellas Deputy Rick Tapia about his bomb-sniffing dog, Vader.
The dogs honored had helped locate explosives, narcotics and missing children.
Will Hicks can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 445-4155.