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County sues in dogfight over K-9

Falco the detective dog may be whiling away the hours of his retirement in the sun, but his owner and the Pasco County Sheriff's Office are embroiled in a battle over his departure from law enforcement. Sheriff's officials have sued Falco's owner, former Officer Jack Hypes of the K-9 unit, for breach of contract, claiming that when Hypes quit working at the Sheriff's Office, he took Falco with him, promising them another dog.

If they couldn't have Falco, sheriff's officials wanted a dog just as good.

Instead, the complaint states, Hypes gave them Axel, a German shepherd from the Netherlands who has since developed hip problems and can no longer do police work.

Hypes said that if sheriff's officials had taken Axel to the veterinarian's office within 10 days of his arrival last August, they could have found out then whether the dog was healthy.

"If there was a problem with the dog," Hypes said Thursday, "They could have returned the dog. But now there's no way of knowing if Axel had problems before he got here or if he was injured on the job."

The suit maintains that Hypes told the Sheriff's Office that Axel came with certified X-rays and that additional X-rays would only be detrimental to the dog.

Therefore, the sheriff relied on Hypes' expertise as a dog trainer and handler, and in October it became apparent that Axel was crippled, according to the suit.

Hypes wanted to keep Falco because he had grown attached to the dog in the four years that Falco worked and lived with him.

"He was the top dog around here," Hypes said of Falco's law enforcement career. "Now he's hanging around home taking it easy."

Sheriff's Officials spent $2,350 to replace Falco's replacement and are mad that Hypes has "the benefit of his bargain," because he still has Falco. Officials also spent $340.38 on Axel's medical expenses and are seeking $2,690.38 from Hypes.

Meanwhile, these days Falco rests.

"He hasn't totally gotten used to retirement yet," Hypes said. "He still follows me to the car when I leave for work in the morning."