Members of the Glasgow Police Department paid homage to a fellow officer Wednesday morning during a memorial ceremony at the police station.
K-9 Ranger was lauded by Chief Guy Turcotte and Sgt. Brad Lewis, the dog’s handler and partner for two years, during a brief remembrance event.
“Officer Ranger was an exceptional K-9 drug enforcement dog who was credited with numerous drug seizures and arrests for the Glasgow Police Department,” Turcotte told the crowd gathered outside the police station.
Ranger died in the early morning hours of July 20, after becoming ill five days earlier. An autopsy performed at the Breathitt Veterinary Center in Hopkinsville determined a rattlesnake bite was the cause of death.
Lewis told the audience that since he first began working with Ranger in July of 2009, he and the dog were inseparable.
“The bond that develops between a K-9 handler and his dog goes beyond what anybody would ever experience as a pet owner,” he said.
Lewis and his wife, Jessica, even took Ranger on vacation, he said.
The dog taught the officer a lot about being a better handler and policeman, according to Lewis.
“He’s the only coworker I ever had who never complained, never griped, never tried to get out of work. In fact, he would do anything just to get to come in. He would stay 24 hours a day if you would let him. You actually had to watch him when he was working because he would push himself until he would pass out or he would just get sick and lay down ... That’s how much he loved it,” Lewis said.
But Friday evening, July 15, Lewis knew something was wrong with his dog.
“Before I went to work that day, I got him out and played ball with him a little bit ... He came in the house with me for a little while and then I put him in his kennel,” he said. “He was perfectly fine. I got home that night and his neck was swollen.”
Lewis took Ranger to Dr. Claudia Kuykendall on Saturday morning and they originally thought he might have tried to eat a wasp that stung him in the mouth. Ranger was given shots and pain medication and Lewis took him home.
While the officer was at work on Saturday, his wife called and told him the swelling had increased. They called the vet for additional information on how to treat Ranger and continued to care for him through the weekend.
The dog’s condition continued to deteriorate and he was having trouble drinking water. Lewis took Ranger back to the vet Monday morning.
“He acted like he didn’t even want to walk. I put him in the Blazer because I didn’t want him to have to jump up and stand in the police car. Even as bad as he felt, he tried to pull me back over to my cruiser, like ‘Let’s go to work,’” Lewis said. “I’ve seen him jump on top of my car before, but I had to pick him up to put him in there, which was not good. I couldn’t put a collar on him because his neck was swollen so bad.”
The veterinarian’s office told Lewis they wanted to keep Ranger for a few days to treat him, but his condition continued to worsen and by early Wednesday morning the dog was dead.
“He held on for five days. They said he had so much venom in him that it had to be an exceptionally large snake,” Lewis said.
It’s almost an unheard of occurrence for a dog to be bitten by a rattlesnake in this part of the state, according to Dr. Jim Heltsley, veterinarian.
Most rattlesnakes in the area are found around Mammoth Cave or Gamaliel in Monroe County, he said.
“In an average summer, we’ll see three or four copperhead bites (on dogs, but no rattlesnakes),” Heltsley said.
Lewis lives near Barren River Lake, which could provide the right type of habitat for a rattlesnake, but he said Ranger was kept in a 10-by-10 pen with a chain-link fence and concrete pad next to the house and the snake would had to have crawled into the enclosure to bite the dog.
Lewis has since done some reading on rattlesnakes in this area and said he thought it was probably a timber rattlesnake.
“They’re considered dangerous, not because of the strength of their venom, but because they’re so large and their front fangs can be up to five inches long. They can inject massive amounts of venom because of their size,” he said.
Lewis said he was taking steps to try to make sure his other dogs remain safe.
Heltsley said he had never heard of a rattlesnake in that part of Barren County before and it was significant because there are a large number of homes around the lake. He advised parents and pet owners in the area to be aware of the possibility of poisonous snakes being around, but stressed that snakes normally try to get away from people and dogs rather than attacking them.
Lewis has another dog, Kino, a 2-year-old Dutch Shepherd, that he has been training for over a year and he hopes the dog will be able to take over for Ranger.
But not even Kino will be able to replace Lewis’ long-time partner.