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Retired drug-bust dog dies

Axel, the crime-fighting German shepherd who retired last summer amid much fanfare from the Crystal River Police Department, died late Wednesday.

Axel was found by Crystal River police Sgt. Mike Klyap when he visited Sgt. Kat Liotta's home. An autopsy performed by Dr. K. C. Nayfield determined that the 8-year-old dog had suffered a heart attack.

"Axel was a certified narcotics detector and he had made many, many drug busts throughout his career," police spokeswoman Martha Langston said. "At the time he died he was just taking it easy, enjoying his retirement."

Langston said Crystal River police officers have been wearing a black strip across their badges in Axel's memory. A burial service is planned. Liotta will make the final arrangements.

Liotta and Axel had been partners for five years. She was the only officer who wanted the responsibility of caring for the canine. Axel lived and traveled with her on police duties and public appearances.

The City Council allowed Axel, whose health had begun to deteriorate, to retire and retain his badge last July. After Axel's retirement, Liotta purchased him.

"Kat's taking Axel's death pretty bad because she just lost her grandfather around Christmas," Langston said. "Axel was her baby, her partner, her family."

Born Axel Vom Stahl-Zwinger in Heimsheim, Germany, in May 1985, the department acquired him in November 1986 through the U.S. Police Canine Association.

His police identification number was 121 and he had been made an honorary member of the National Association of Retired Law Enforcement Officers after he retired.

Liotta had said some of Axel's career highlights included the time he sniffed out marijuana hidden in a 40-pound bag of dog food and the time he dived into a swamp to catch a robber hiding underwater.

Axel left no offspring. Langston said flowers and cards for Axel should be sent to the Crystal River Police Department.

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