Laurel, MS – The City of Laurel recently decided that it would be cheaper to buy a new police dog than provide potentially life-saving care to a veteran K9 officer.
Police K9 Johnny, a German Shepherd who is cross-trained in patrol and narcotics detection, has faithfully served the Laurel Police Department for five years.
He actually came out of retirement to work for the City of Laurel in 2013 after his handler, K9 Corporal John Windsor, left the Jones County Sheriff’s Office and joined the Laurel Police Department.
When Cpl. Windsor, who has 22 years of law enforcement experience, was first partnered with K9 Johnny in 2009, it was estimated that the police dog was about two years old.
After Cpl. Windsor joined the Laurel PD, the Jones County Sheriff’s Office gave the retired K9 to his new, much smaller department to utilize.
Laurel PD got the dog for free, and he’s turned out to be worth his weight in gold, Cpl. Windsor told Blue Lives Matter.
“He’s been one of the most productive dogs in the department,” the K9 handler bragged. “He’s got a total of six suspect apprehensions – one of them shot at him!”
On one occasion, K9 Johnny alerted officers to a hidden compartment inside a suspect vehicle.
Police found $300,000 in methamphetamine hidden inside, Cpl. Windsor told Blue Lives Matter.
In another case, K9 Johnny detected $10,000 in cash hidden on a suspect and alerted his human partner.
K9 Johnny was almost seriously injured in January of 2018 when he apprehended an armed burglary suspect, according to WDAM.
The suspect fired shots at the dog, and then physically attacked him.
"When our officers arrived, he was reaching for a weapon and he was choking the dog," Laurel Police Captain Tommy Cox told WDAM at the time.
The bullets missed the dog and K9 Johnny was not injured in the fray.
Officers were able to take the suspect into custody without any of the human officers being hurt, either
“He’s proved his worth in five years for sure,” K9 Johnny’s handler said.
But then one morning in November of 2018, Cpl. Windsor said his partner wasn’t himself when he went to let him out of his kennel.
“One day, he didn’t want to play, so I knew something was wrong,” the K9 handler said.
He called the vet for antibiotics but that didn’t help. So Cpl. Windsor took him in for tests.
K9 Johnny’s regular veterinarian, Dr. Kirk Frazier at the All Animal Clinic in Hattiesburg, took x-rays of the police dog and found a big mass between his heart and his stomach.
Frazier said that the 11-year-old K9 Johnny needed a $4,000 surgery to remove the mass in order to survive, Cpl. Windsor told Blue Lives Matter.
So the devastated K9 handler went to his police chief to ask for the funds to save his partner’s life.
“I went and talked to [my department] and told them about it, and the chief said he had to talk to the mayor,” Cpl. Windsor explained.
“Then the chief called me in about three or four days later and said ‘John, we’re not going to pay for the surgery. We’re going to retire Johnny. But if you want another dog, we’ll get you one,” he said.
“I told the chief ‘I don’t want another dog, I want this one fixed,’” Cpl. Windsor told Blue Lives Matter. “But the chief told me ‘well, we’re not going to be able to pay for the surgery.”
Blue Lives Matter contacted Laurel Mayor Johnny Magee to find out why the city was unwilling to pay for medical care for an active-duty police dog.
“From what I understood from the chief, it was the cost of the surgery and our finances,” Magee said. “And the fact again from the chief that for a little more money, we could purchase a new K9.”
“My suggestion was to allow the K9 to be retired to his handler, and to spend his final days with his handler at the handler’s home,” the mayor said.
The administration’s decision put the responsibility on K9 Johnny’s partner to either pay $4,000 out of his own pocket to try and save the dog who had protected him and his fellow officers on so many occasions, or to put the police dog to sleep.
“The onus would not be on the handler to spend $4,000 out of his pocket – we’re not saying we want the dog to suffer and die with his handler,” the mayor argued. “It was that we could, in the city, make a better decision to purchase a new K9 and retire Johnny to his handler.”
The decision was made because of the dog’s age, Magee said.
Cpl. Windsor said he feels like they have treated K9 Johnny like a depreciating piece of equipment.
Magee, a second-term mayor, told Blue Lives Matter that he didn’t feel his decision lacked compassion for the veteran police dog.
“At the end of the day, it is what we felt was the best decision for the City of Laurel,” he said.
Cpl. Windsor said there was no way he was going to sit back and do nothing for the K9 officer who had been his partner for nine years.
He said K9 Johnny was in perfect health until he developed the mass – and even continued working after his diagnosis.
“I said he’s going to come to work as long as he feels like it,” the K9 handler said. “I quit bringing him about three weeks ago after we found out the mass grew and he started retaining fluid.”
At that point, Cpl. Windsor said he convinced the department to at least pay for a biopsy for K9 Johnny. But it was too late.
The veterinarian advised Cpl. Windsor that the mass had grown and had to come out for the dog to survive, regardless of what a biopsy found.
“I told the vet that the department’s not going to pay for this and Dr. Frazier said it was now or never,” the K9 handler said.
He said the vet was willing to do the surgery without payment up front, and friends suggested that he create a GoFundMe account to raise money to help pay for the surgery.
In anticipation of that support, his friend Larry Abernathy put down a credit card to cover the costs until the funds could be raised, Cpl. Windsor said.
Frazier, the veterinarian, operated on K9 Johnny on Monday.
“Today is day three after surgery – he’s doing okay but he tires out quickly,” the doctor told Blue Lives Matter on Wednesday. “In some respects he’s done very well – he’s not run a fever and there’s no air leaking in his chest.”
Frazier said he removed a grapefruit-sized mass from the dog’s chest, and that now they’re in wait-and-see mode as K9 Johnny recovers.
The veterinarian told Blue Lives Matter that it’s possible that the police dog will be able to return to active duty – the department did not actually retire K9 Johnny after all. He’s out on medical leave.
However, he’s got a long road of rehab ahead of him, and will likely not be up for the more strenuous duties associated with being a patrol dog.
Frazier said there’s no reason that K9 Johnny, if he recovers, cannot work as a narcotics detection dog in the future.
“There’s still a laundry basket of possible problems that could develop,” the doctor warned Blue Lives Matter.
But he is optimistic.
“We’re putting a lot of effort into Johnny, bless his heart” Frazier said. “Johnny has a lot of great history with being a law enforcement K9.”
K9 Johnny’s handler won’t hear of the negative possibilities now that his partner has survived the very risky surgery, and said he hoped to be back on the street with his dog in the future.
“The K9 sergeant told the chief about Johnny’s surgery yesterday, and said that if he recovers, he’ll go back to work,” Cpl. Windsor told Blue Lives Matter.
Frazier told Blue Lives Matter that $4,000 was just the cost of the actual surgery, and that future therapy and medications for K9 Johnny would add up considerably.
But for Cpl. Windsor, it’s not about the money – it’s about taking care of a police dog that has protected so many officers. He said he’ll find a way to pay for whatever is necessary.
Blue Lives Matter reached out to Laurel Police Chief Tyrone Stewart about K9 Johnny but did not receive a response.
If you want to help Cpl. Windsor pay for K9 Johnny’s care, you can go to this GoFundMe link to contribute.