K9 Conundrum: Disparate Decisions in Botetourt and Augusta Counties
Written by: Sam Orlando
AUGUSTA COUNTY, VA - In the realm of law enforcement, it's not just officers who serve on the front lines; their K9 companions are equally as dedicated. One such dutiful servant is K9 Rico from Augusta County Sheriff's Office, whose retirement is currently the subject of great online and community debate, prompting comparisons with the recent retirement of a K9 from a neighboring county.
Earlier this year, another K9 named Rico, from the nearby Botetourt County Sheriff's Office, after over six years of service, retired and was allowed to live with his handler, Lieutenant J.C. Claterbaugh. The decision was praised by the community, acknowledging the special bond that forms between a handler and their K9 partner, a relationship built on trust, loyalty, and mutual respect. That decision was made by Botetourt County Sheriff Matt Ward, who said that "Deputy Rico was like family".
The Botetourt County Sheriff's Office celebrated Rico's illustrious career, during which he uncovered illegal narcotics, located crucial evidence, performed numerous public demonstrations, worked with the Emergency Response Team, and made several apprehensions, one involving a suspect in an attempted murder of a deputy! Rico's retirement was described as him hanging up his uniform "to pursue other canine interests."
On the other hand, the retirement plan for Augusta County's K9 Rico is taking a different, and arguably more complex, turn. Sheriff Donald L. Smith announced that due to a change in employment, K9 Rico currently lacks a handler. His plan is to re-assign Rico to a new handler soon. In the meantime, K9 Rico remains caged in limbo.
However, Blue Ridge Canine Services, a local rescue group, proposed raising funds to buy a new K9 for the Sheriff's Office, allowing Rico to retire early and live with his former handler. Sheriff Smith agreed to this proposition but with a caveat: the group must raise $19,000 in pledges by August 30th. This ironically harkens back to a concurrent county scandal, where the County has been accused of charging illegal fees, or ransom demands, for citizens to retrieve their animals. Those fees are far less than the $19,000 it will take to save K9 Rico from having to be rehomed.
While appreciating the bond between handlers and their K9s, Sheriff Smith emphasized his duty as a steward of taxpayer funds. Given the high costs involved in procuring and training these specialized dogs, he expressed his reluctance to retire a still-valuable member of the team like Rico.
The comparison between the two cases of the police K9's named Rico highlights different approaches to K9 retirement, raising questions about the ethics of re-assigning dogs, the value of the bond between handlers and their K9s, and the efficient use of public funds. The deadline for the pledges approaches, and the future of Augusta County's K9 Rico hangs in the balance. If you are interested in learning more about K9 Rico and how you can help, you can visit the fundraising website for K9 Rico that is being operated by Blue Ridge Canine Services: https://gofund.me/748b8be7
The difference in approach between Augusta and Botetourt counties is stark and will surely provoke further debate on how best to honor the service of our four-legged officers while ensuring the efficient use of public resources. As we watch this unfold, we can only hope that K9 Rico's ultimate fate is one that serves his best interest.