While attending the memorable and dignified memorial service for K-9 working dogs of the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office and Clearwater Police Department on May 5, I had a wonderful opportunity to witness values that are both admirable and humane.
Driving into Curlew Hills Memory Gardens, I first observed what represents love of country by our flags on display in honor of the service.
Walking down toward the beautiful garden area reserved for our law enforcement K-9 dogs, I noticed the camaraderie between the sheriff's deputies and the Clearwater police officers who work together with their dogs in a special kind of unique brotherhood, ensuring our safety.
I shared a brief hello with Clearwater police Chief Sid Klein and the bright sun reflected on his highly polished shoes. I am sure he has many reasons for his shoes to always shine, but that morning I believe there was only one. Our highest ranking police official shined his shoes to honor these dogs.
Individual flags were on each dog's resting place. A woman was kneeling at one of the graves, alone with her memories and thoughts. It has to be one of the law enforcement wives, I thought. Her private moments may have expressed prayer, love and affection for the dog she saw not only as her husband's partner but also as a member of her family. Her moments of grief must have been wrapped around love and gratitude to their dog she trusted to help keep her husband safe.
As the service began, I heard sincere appreciation for the kindness and altruistic generosity of Curlew Hills Memory Gardens and its CEO, Keenan Knopke, from those in charge of the K-9 teams. The beautiful and peaceful setting is donated and dedicated for them and is a separate part of the Curlew Hills Pet Memorial Gardens. Mr. Knopke gave a headstone for each dog listing the name and years of service and years following the dog's retirement.
Curlew Hills Memory Gardens has earned and deserves certification as an "Animal Friendly Business" from the Humane Society of Pinellas for recognizing pets as part of family, validating families' needs for their pets, and for its generosity to Pinellas County Sheriff and Clearwater Police K-9 working dogs in providing a resting place worthy of their honorable service.
Pastor Danny McDonald from North Bay Community Church spoke eloquently and passionately about the work of the dogs, the love he feels for them and his own dogs, and his willingness to offer his services and help to the officers and their dogs. Words spoken from a pastor that validate love for animals within and not separate from religious belief always bring me comfort.
Then I saw expressions of grief, pride and love from the dogs' partners. Their pride was for the dogs and the K-9 teams, never for themselves. I looked left and saw each flag and each headstone and looked right and saw the famous pose of all the K-9 officers in uniform, lined up and standing with their dogs by their side, watchful and alert.
As the services ended, I saw an officer responding to a child who wanted to learn about and touch his dog. I, too, touched the dog as I was leaving and looked into his eyes. Had I stayed a little longer, I might have learned more as the officer spoke to the child, but I thought it more important for the child to have his attention. In my work I experience something about all dogs but certainly not everything about these special ones. They are in good, strong, honorable and capable hands.
What I do know about them I am compelled to share with St. Petersburg Times readers as my tribute to Rexi, Zeus, Altos, Brawn and all the others who rest by their side:
• There is no greater trust than that created by the bond between K-9 law enforcement working dogs and their deputy or police handlers.
• There is no greater loyalty than from these dogs, who would lay down their lives for their partners and for you and me if called on to do so in the line of duty.
• There is no greater or faster response to obedience than from these dogs, who respond to their partner's commands — words that need only be said once.
• There is no better way to honor these dogs than to acknowledge, appreciate and respect them and their partners, together in service for our safety, and to remember those partners lost forever to us and their families.
• There is no better way to pay them back than to treat all dogs a little more kindly and with more compassion, including those who serve our military in war, our customs officers and our firefighters; who work with our agricultural agencies to safeguard our food; who work as rescue dogs; assistance dogs who see and hear for us; dogs who predict our diseases and alert to our seizures, thereby giving us freedom to work, drive and swim; who are abused, exploited and cruelly treated for profit or criminal intent; who provide therapy to heal us faster, comfort us, teach us to read and warn us of danger; who listen to our stories when we are sad and share our joy when we laugh; who give us friendship and companionship like no other; and all those dogs in animal shelters who were born unwanted or were neglected, abandoned or surrendered for becoming an inconvenience and who now wait for a new and forever home.
Barbara Snow is executive director of the Humane Society of Pinellas County. Its Web address is www.humanesocietyofpinellas.org.