Aransas County, TX – Refugio County Sheriff’s K9 Grunt and K9 Nell were strangled to death by an illegal alien they were pursuing through dense brush on Saturday.
The incident began north of Holiday Beach at approximately 9 a.m., when an officer attempted to pull over a black pickup truck, Aransas County Sheriff Bill Mills told the Caller Times.
The driver appeared to be stopping, but then “took of at a high rate of speed,” and barreled through a fence line, Sheriff Mills said in a Facebook post.
The truck lurched to a stop near a dense patch of brush, at which point “14 to 16” individuals scrambled out and took off on foot, scattering themselves throughout the vegetation, the sheriff said.
“Refugio County offered a canine unit to assist,” Sheriff Mills explained. “They brought tracking dogs that were non-aggressive, non-bite trained. We have used canines like these to ensure safety of individuals in events like this. We have other well-trained canine units that can defend themselves, but we consciously avoid deploying them off leash in environments.”
K9 Grunt and K9 Nell belonged to Refugio County Sheriff’s Deputy Joe Braman, who operates a kennel, the El Paso Times reported.
Although he houses K9’s that belong to the sheriff’s office, K9 Grunt and K9 Nell were not owned by the department, he said.
The duo were trained trackers, and had helped locate disoriented Alzheimer’s and dementia patients in the past.
“They’re not real aggressive dogs — they'll just hold someone at bay until you get there," Deputy Braman said, describing K9 Grunt and K9 Nell. "I just wasn't able to get there quick enough."
In addition to deputies from Aransas and Refugio counties, officers with the Texas Department of Public Safety, Department of Wildlife and U.S. Customs and Border Protection arrived to assist in the search, the Caller Times reported.
“With handlers on horseback and Officers on foot, the law enforcement team soon located and detained 3 individuals,” Sheriff Mills’ post read. “As the search continued and moved about a very large area, three more individuals were detected in a heavy thicket.”
Two of those individuals surrendered quickly, but a third taunted the officers from the brush.
“If you want me, come and get me!” he told the officers in Spanish, according to the sheriff.
Officers then discovered the bodies of K9 Nell and K9 Grunt.
“The collars…had been twisted tightly about their necks, causing their deaths,” Sheriff Mills said.
The officers apprehended a total of six illegal aliens during the search – one female and five males. Investigators determined that the group came from Mexico, Honduras, and Guatemala.
One of the males had a tattoo “known to show Cartel affiliation,” the sheriff said.
“Two highly valued canines were destroyed by individuals believed to be in this country illegally,” Sheriff Mills wrote. “It was an afternoon that left me wondering how many lives of Dementia and Alzheimer’s individuals in the future may have been put at risk with the deaths of these two Canines.”
"That could be an officer that got hurt just as easily as [these] dogs," he told the Caller Times. "These were some valued dogs that had saved lives, found people in Refugio County and neighboring counties, and I feel horrible for the kennel owner.”
Both were females – a mix of bluetick coonhound, redtick coonhound, and black and tan coonhound, Deputy Braman said. K9 Grunt was eight years old, and K9 Nell was three.
"They're behind bars ... right now, they're not going to hurt anyone else," the deputy said of the individuals who were arrested. "That's our main concern. I don't want some innocent bystander to have been assaulted by these people because it's apparent they have no respect for anyone, not even an animal."
Our thoughts and prayers are with the Refugio County Sheriff’s Office and Deputy Joe Braman in the loss of K9 Grunt and K9 Nell.