The sheriff this month cemented the retirement of a 5 1/2-year veteran by selling him for a dollar.

Dax, a 9-year-old German shepherd, stopped working as a K9 service dog for the Lancaster County Sheriff’s Office at the end of last month, but the Lancaster County Board of Commissioners made his retirement official last week.

In a unanimous vote, commissioners agreed to sell Dax as “surplus property” for $1 to his longtime handler, 37-year-old Deputy Jason Henkel.

For more than half a decade, Dax sniffed for drugs, hunted suspects and rooted out evidence. Once, he tracked down someone who’d gulped down a bunch of pills and walked off in a suicide attempt.

“That person could’ve died,” Henkel said. “He’s had a very, very successful career.”

That career started in 2006 when representatives from the sheriff’s office traveled to Kasseburg Canine Training Center in Alabama and took two days to choose Dax, who’d been imported from Germany a couple of months earlier.

Dax then trained with Henkel at the Nebraska Law Enforcement Training Center for about three months, learning to obey, sniff out drugs, hunt suspects and search buildings.

“Our bond’s just gotten stronger,” Henkel said. “I can always rely on him in a bad situation. I’ve got backup right here.”

This week, life is a little calmer for Dax. No perps to chase, no drugs to find. Instead, he’s stayed home, gone on walks and chased a ball around.

The transition has been tough for both man and dog, said Henkel, who still has to go into work.

“He sees me getting the uniform on. He’s amped to get up and go with me.”

But Henkel has to leave him behind, something that still feels weird. For 5 1/2 years, Dax was always there, by Henkel's side or in the back of his car. He’d pipe up if a suspect moved too much in the back seat or bark if someone got too close to Henkel’s cruiser.

“He scared a lot of people,” Henkel said with a big laugh.

But Dax’s health forced the issue. Slamming against suspects, hopping fences and working through a never-ending battery of training isn’t easy. Henkel noticed Dax yelped when he hopped into the back of the car, so he took his partner in for a checkup.

The doctor said arthritis, pretty bad.

“He’s getting up there in age,” Henkel said. “It’s started to take its toll on him."

Henkel said he didn’t want to risk anything by keeping Dax in the line of duty if he wasn’t 100 percent.

The sheriff is in the process of getting a new service dog, which is part of a K9 program run entirely off public donations. Nothing’s final yet, but Henkel said it looks as though there’s a good chance he could be the new dog’s handler.

“I’ll have to learn his or her little quirks,” Henkel said. “Every dog’s different.”

Reach Jonathan Edwards at 402-473-7395 or jedwards@journalstar.com

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