GPD says farewell to K-9 Marko after unexpected death
After serving the city of Graham for seven years, Graham Police Department K-9 officer Marko died Wednesday, July 19, from medical problems with his spleen.
The 7-year-old German Shepherd joined the department in 2010 and served with two service handlers, Devin Wright, who currently works for the Young County Sheriff’s Department, and Austin Lawrence, who was Marko’s current handler.
“Marko was an officer on this department and he earned a spot with his performance,” Graham Police Chief Tony Widner said.
Widner said the department was always interested in obtaining a drug dog, but did not have the funding to acquire one. In 2009 and 2010 the Graham Citizens Police Auxiliary, through contributions and fundraising events, raised enough money to buy and outfit a dog.
“They got pretty active and we had some fundraising events and between speaking to civic groups, the citizens police auxiliary and just the community in general we were able to raise $53,000, which paid for the K-9 and the vehicle,” Widner said.
Marko was GPD’s first K-9 and was used for narcotics detection and tracking. He was used by multiple counties and taken to demonstration programs around Texas, Widner said.
“Marko has been quite a few places and if there was a need, we were fortunate enough to have (a drug dog), so we tried to the best of our ability without taxing our resources to help other agencies when necessary,” he said.
Service in GPD
Marko was used for vehicle searches and tracking missing dementia patients or missing people with medical conditions. Widner said Marko was a high energy officer with a great personality. The K-9 had been involved in 200 investigation or calls for assistance during his service.
“Because of Marko’s personality, like I said, kids can pet him and he can turn around and do a search and there was never any change in his attitude,” he said.
Marko served longer than a lot of human officers with GPD, and Widner said that he worked as hard as any one of the 23 officers in the department.
“He was a multipurpose K-9 and he was as active on the department as any officer we have,” he said. “He was subject to call because he was the only K-9, so there were a lot of times that he would work his eight- or 12-hour shift and then get called back out for searches.”
Widner said the dog was positive influence on those who worked at GPD. When his handler would go on vacation, other officers would look after Marko.
Widner said he believes that K-9s should live with their handlers.
“I think the animals are taken better care of when there is somebody there with them 24/7 so that if something happens you are right there and can do something with it,” he said. “The negative part of that is, it is hard not to get attached to a service animal like that.”
The department will be bringing the issue of obtaining another replacement drug dog before the Graham City Council at their regular meeting Thursday, July 27. Part of the problem with buying a new dog is the increased cost since they purchased Marko in 2010.
“When we originally got Marko he cost $8,500, and the cost of a replacement K-9 now is $16,000, and we are wanting to go back to the same place where we got this K-9,” Widner said. “It is a company called US K-9 in Louisiana and they have one of the highest levels of competency when it comes to training and quality of K-9s.”
Widner said the department and city need a drug dog to have more efficiency in the fight against drugs in Graham, which is why the department is asking for a replacement from the city council.
“The department is severely hampered because he is the only K-9 in this part of the county, so we have lost that ability until we get another K-9, and then even when we find the funds to purchase one, it’s five weeks for a handler and a K-9 to be trained where they are confident together to pass the NNDA accreditation standards,” the chief said.
Eventually Widner said he would like to have two K-9 officers so the department could have them work alternate shifts. This was the original plan they had for Marko before the medical condition which cost his life.
“Most K-9s, if you get five or six years out of them, then you have had a good service career,” Widner said. “The real shame in this is that Marko didn’t live to retire, because he had definitely earned that.”
GPD had one solemn salute for Marko Monday morning. They placed their vehicles along both sides of Loving Highway in front of the department’s offices as a motorcade of law enforcement vehicles escorted him past his workplace one last time. The department’s flag stood at half-staff in his honor.
The honor guard was made up of officers from GPD, Young County Sheriffs Department, and the Olney Police Department, representing each agency he’d assisted during his career.
“Marko made GPD a better department and Graham a safer community,” GPD said in a press release. “Rest in peace. Your tour of duty is finished, your assignment complete.”