By Brandi Makuski
One of the two Portage Co. K-9 dogs has been stricken with terminal cancer, according to officials at the Portage Co. Sheriff’s Office.
Sheriff Mike Lukas said the diagnosis of intestinal and lung cancer for nine-year-old Baco was confirmed Tuesday.
“He has terminal cancer and he could have weeks, to up to a year,” Lukas said. “Our number one concern, and the handler’s number one concern, is, if he’s in pain, he’ll be taken out of service.”
According to Dale Okray, captain of operations for the sheriff’s office, Baco’s handler and partner, Deputy Dan Wachowiak, began to notice the dog was “acting a little odd” a few weeks ago, then began to exhibit a cough. A trip to Oakview Veterinary Medical Center in Plover yielded a referral to a veterinarian in the Fox Valley area, where the diagnosis was confirmed.
“They think the cancer started in his intestines; you can feel a lump on his side,” Okray said.
“It was completely spread through his lung,” said Chief Deputy Dan Kontos. “When the vet said, ‘weeks to a year’, the ‘year’ was very optimistic. It’s actually weeks to maybe months.”
Kontos said Baco’s duties have been reduced; while he’s still on active duty, he will no longer be used for search and rescue calls, clearing buildings or public appearances. The department’s other K-9 dog, Lady, will fill in as much as possible.
“He just gets winded too quickly,” Kontos said. “He’s still being used for drug detection work, and that’s about it. And the only reason we’re still using him for that, besides the fact that he can do it, is to keep some normalcy in the dog’s routine. Those kinds of dogs, if they’re not working, or their handler goes to work without them, they stress out, and it just causes the dog more problems. So he’s with his handler to keep as much normalcy as he can.”
Lukas said Wachowiak will be responsible for notifying the sheriff when Baco, a Belgian Malinois, exhibits pain, or when his diagnosis begins to affect the K-9’s duties.
“At this point, [Wachowiak] feels [Baco’s] drive has not been deterred, and his work has not been deterred, but the doctor’s prognosis says he’ll deteriorate rapidly,” Lukas said Thursday, adding the news was a blow to Wachowiak.
“He’s trying to stay professional, but that’s his partner for six years. It’s tough on him,” Lukas said.
Kontos said prior to Baco’s diagnosis, the sheriff’s office had planned to consider retiring the dog by 2017 or 2018. But now that the department will have to put the dog down in the near future, Lukas and his staff face not only heartbreak, but unexpected medical expenses for the dog, along with upwards of $22,000 for a replacement K-9 sooner than they planned.
The Portage Co. Sheriff’s Office first implemented a K-9 program in 1993, Okray said, and has put K-9 dogs down before.
“At some point in time it will become necessary to put him down,” said Kontos. “But we will do some public ceremony, something suitable recognizing his service.”
“We don’t want the dog to suffer, and neither does Dan [Wachowiak], so we’ll have to make that call at some point,” Okray said. “Baco’s one of the best dogs we’ve ever had.”
To make a donation to the Portage Co. K-9 Unit, call the sheriff’s office at (715) 346-1400. A fundraising event for the K-9 unit is also being held by a class of Ben Franklin Jr. High ninth graders at Lower Whiting Park on April 30 from 10 AM to 2 PM.