Clayton County Police Department K9 Lakota
2013 American Humane Association Law Enforcement Hero
October 3, 2011 started like any other day on the force for Clayton County Police officers Travis Fox and his partner K9 Lakota. But fate would test their fortitude and turn that day’s patrol in to an unforgettable one. While responding to a call of a home invasion Officer Fox and Lakota were involved in a serious automobile crash. The force of the accident tore their patrol car in two, ejecting Officer Fox through the windshield and ripping K9 Lakota from the twisted metal that was once his travel crate. K9 Lakota and Officer Fox served together as a certified full service, dual purpose K9 team for nearly four years before the accident occurred. In their short career as partners they helped apprehend over 80 suspects, performed 28 drug seizures and located $60,000 in cash, and performed numerous vehicle and property recoveries. Their service record together is the reason they were the top K9 team to be called in response to burglary attempts.
A full service, dual purpose K9 team is trained in multiple areas:
- criminal tracking
- criminal apprehension
- area and article searches
- narcotics detection/and or explosives detection
These tasks are needed and performed during patrol work so it is vital for police
K9’s to excel in these areas. They are required to assist with building and perimeter searches, suspect and criminal apprehension and other tactical operations. If you’re a criminal and you’ve had the unfortunate altercation with a police K9, then you most vividly remember a police K9 for their bite work. The snarling, teeth-bearing German Shepherd pulling ahead taut on the leash. It’s standing on its hind legs barking and trying to thrust forward, focused on its target and ready to attack. Then three loud verbal K9 warnings: “Come out now or I send the dog in and you’re going to get bit!” If at this point you have not complied, you’re likely to be visited by an EMS crew and recording photographer within a short time.
K9 Lakota and Officer Fox spent much of their time supporting local law enforcement agencies during suspected robberies. During one investigation, Officer Fox and K9 Lakota responded to a burglary at an auto collision business. It was believed multiple suspects were pinned down within the business’ parking lot or building when earlier officers arrived, preventing the suspects from fleeing. As Officer Fox and Lakota entered the parking area, Officer Fox gave three loud and clear K9 announcements that indicated if the suspects did not surrender the police dog would be set loose to “assist” in the surrendering process.
“He has me!”
When Officer Fox heard no response he gave Lakota the command to “track.” Lakota’s tracking began near a bag left by the suspects beside a hole that was made in the fence to gain access to the business. Lakota caught the suspects scent and started a focused track within the yard. Officer Fox again gave a K9 warning. No response. Lakota caught a strong scent and pulled Officer Fox to one end of the lot to a car with a door that was still ajar. Lakota searched the car but quickly came back out. He then began circling the perimeter of the vehicle more feverishly. At this time, Officer Fox had noticed a window on the nearby building the car was parked by and thought perhaps the suspect climbed on top of the car and entered the structure. There was no business owner or manager on location at the time so officers were not able to access the building to begin searching. Suddenly, Lakota abruptly stopped circling the vehicle and planted himself at the front of the car. Lakota then swiftly crawled under the vehicle until all that was visible was his tail. Then, there were the screams. “He has me!” Officer Fox ordered the suspect out from under the car and removed Lakota so the other officers could take over.
K9 Lakota is a Czech shepherd, a breed originally employed as state working dogs in the Czech Republic. The Czech shepherd is larger and stockier but with a lighter bone structure than the more recognized German Shepherd we are familiar with here in the U.S. Their high level of working and pain endurance make them an ideal protection and law enforcement K9. Their large blocky heads also come in handy when taking down and detaining suspects.
“He was going to get bitten if he did not come out.”
In the early morning hours of spring, Officer Fox and K9 Lakota responded to another burglary at a business. The officer who called in the request for K9 backup was responding to a silent alarm that was triggered when the suspect gained access to the business. When the officer located a hole that was cut in the fence, he saw a man run from behind the building and in to the nearby woods. The officer yelled to the suspect that a K9 unit was on its way and he was going to get bitten if he did not come out. Immediately after arriving, Lakota picked up an air scent and headed straight for the tree line where the suspect had entered. Officer Fox stopped Lakota and yelled out the K9 warnings. After no response, Officer Fox and Lakota continued along the border of the woods when Lakota began indicating he was on strong signs of a scent. Officer Fox repeated the K9 Warning. Still there was no response. Suddenly, Lakota wanted to enter the wooded area but it was thick with vines and brush. Officer Fox became tangled up in the thicket as Lakota charged ahead. Lakota was already deeper in the woods when Officer Fox heard the suspect make a grunting noise. As he pulled the last of the vines away from his body and lifted his flashlight in the direction of the sound, he saw Lakota had engaged the suspect on the head. Officer Fox gave the command to the suspect to show his hands which the suspect quickly complied. Once it was clear the suspect was not in possession of any weapons, Lakota was given the command to release. A visit from the EMS team and a trip to a medical center for treatment will remind this suspect to comply to K9 warnings if he ever hears them ordered again.
“Lakota had him by his thigh”
Lakota’s love of working showed in his ability to multi-task – in bitework. One warm July day, Officer Fox responded to an assault and attempted robbery call. The first responding officer indicated she saw two suspects running towards a car wash. Lakota was deployed while Officer Fox gave three loud and clear K9 warnings. As he and Lakota were clearing the car wash parking lot, Officer Fox spotted one of the suspects lying on the ground. When the suspect saw Lakota he jumped up and attempted to flee. Officer Fox quickly gave two warnings to stop or he would release the dog. The suspect continued running so Officer Fox gave Lakota the “apprehend” command and released Lakota’s leash. The suspect ran across the road and down over a hill but Lakota was fast on his heels. As Officer Fox made his way across the road and to the top of the hill he found the suspect at the bottom of the hill attempting to fight off Lakota. Lakota had him by his thigh. Officer Fox yelled commands to stop fighting the dog and to get on the ground. After a few moments, the suspect complied but kept reaching down with one hand to Lakota’s head which was still secured to his leg. Officer Fox yelled and commanded the suspect to show his hands. As Lakota kept his firm grip, Officer Fox saw why only one hand was visible. Lakota not only had the suspects thigh clamped in his jaws, he also had the suspect’s left hand. After the suspect raised his one available hand, Lakota was called back to release and the suspect was detained by responding officers.
After the first suspect was handcuffed and on his way for treatment by EMS, Officer Fox returned to the original tracking points to begin looking for suspect number two. While beginning the search, they heard a call over the radio that the remaining suspect had run towards a nearby apartment complex. Officer Fox and Lakota immediately proceeded to the apartment complex and Lakota was ordered to track. As the two entered an area that was encompassed by bushes, Officer Fox gave the K9 warnings. No response. Lakota was released with the apprehend command. Officer Fox had only taken two steps towards the bushes when he heard the suspect screaming that the dog had him. After removing Lakota from the suspect, responding officers were able to handcuff and bring the offender over to EMS for treatment, where he met up with his fellow cohort also being treated for bite wounds.
Many officers will tell you: K9 patrolling is not always a clean job. In the early morning hours of September 29, 2011, K9 Lakota and Officer Fox responded to a multi-alarm incident. They had been advised by dispatch that the main maintenance shed was the origination for of the alarm triggered first. As the team began tracking the fenced area, Officer Fox noticed a garage door that had been forced open. Lakota was given the command for tracking when suddenly a tall male with a dust mask peered out from the opened garage door. Immediately, the commands to surrender were given but the suspect pulled the door closed again and fled through the building. Officer Fox pulled the door ajar again and released Lakota into the building to track. Once inside, Officer Fox had to use his flashlight and observed Lakota giving a strong alert at another door at the back of the building. The door was locked and sounds of attempts to escape through walls or other entries by the suspect could be heard. As other officers arrived on the scene, Officer Fox made sure there were units surrounding the area where the suspects were trapped. He then loudly advised the suspects that if they surrendered, he wouldn’t send in the dog to find and bite them. Immediately the suspects responded and indicated they were coming out. While responding officers were handcuffing the suspects, Officer Fox realized that his boots and pants were covered in yellow and gray paint that had spilled in the subsequent chase. Lakota shared in the colorful new uniform with yellow paint on his paws, back legs and tail. Soon, the strength of this Czech shepherd was truly tested, and this yellow paint would be a poignant reminder that this apprehension was Lakota’s last.
Just a few days later in the early morning hours of October 3, Officer Fox and K9 Lakota were en route to a report of an armed home invasion and property theft. Since the reports indicated the suspects were a severe threat to the public, a “high speed sweep” was necessary. Law enforcement officers are expert drivers and know the limits of their police vehicles. Sometimes, however, there is no way to recover maneuverability when there is a vehicle malfunction. As Officer Fox was travelling at an emergency speed, the rear tire blew sending the cruiser out of control. The vehicle went through a fence and then struck a tree at high speed. The impact of the collision propelled Officer Fox through the windshield and Lakota out through the rear.
When he regained consciousness, Officer Fox was unaware of the condition of Lakota or his vehicle. It wasn’t until the next morning his stunned family realized how devastating the crash was. The vehicle had been sheared in two.
Lakota had been thrown from his transport carrier that was in the back seat of the vehicle. It now stood twisted and mangled among what was left of the front end of the police cruiser. Lakota suffered from multiple fractures and internal bleeding. At one point, doctors believed Lakota would need one of the legs amputated due to the severity of his injuries. In all, Lakota sustained three broken legs, cracked ribs, and a fractures to his back. He wasn’t expected to survive.
Lakota was immediately transported to the University Of Georgia College Of Veterinary Medicine. There, a team led by Dr. Scott Rose began the swift evaluation of Lakota’s injuries to determine where to begin. Lakota was in critical condition and needed to be stabilized before undergoing any surgical procedures. After radiographs showed where the leg fractures needed splinting, Dr. Rose’s team prepared Lakota for the first of many surgeries to save his life. On October 7th, Lakota’s first surgery to repair his damaged back legs lasted over 5 hours. The surgeries were a success; Lakota’s damaged legs were placed in casts, and he began the long and arduous healing process.
Officer Fox sustained multiple broken ribs and lacerations over his entire body but the pain of being separated from his K9 partner was immense. For 8 days, they could not see each other while both Lakota and Officer Fox were in recovery. On October 11th, the Fox family was finally able to visit Lakota in the ICU for a sweet reunion. Officer Fox was visibly emotional but happy to be with his partner.
Some spouses might be jealous or offended by the amount of attention a handler gives to their K9 partner. Officer Fox’s wife, Corey, doesn’t mind at all. Matter of fact, she knows how important the bond between handler and K9 really is. Their youngest child has an autism and seizure alert service dog so they know the importance of the bonds that K9 teams form. Together, Travis and Corey operate a family business, Guardian of the Night K9, a company that specializes in training service and working dogs. With Officer Travis Fox’s background in K9 law enforcement and years of work with ADA service dogs, creating and understanding the bond between K9 and handler comes natural to them.
The costs of Lakota’s treatment and recovery weighed heavily on the family. When the accident happened, Officer Fox learned that his department was planning on immediately retiring Lakota due to his wounds. Because of his injuries, Lakota would end up in a shelter, or worse, because of the expense of his treatment, be euthanized. So Officer Fox immediately stepped up and offered to adopt Lakota and be responsible for his care. Luckily, members of the Clayton County Commissioners Office and police officials announced that the county would cover the cost of Lakota’s surgery and treatment. It was estimated to cost nearly $10,000 though that didn’t include expenses during the long-term rehabilitation Lakota would permanently require. However, if the county had not stepped up to cover those initial medical bills, the costs would have been financially devastating for the family. The Fox family realized this glitch in the working dog world needed to be addressed; many handlers would not be able to afford that kind of money, nor would they want to lose their K9 partners.
During the 2013 American Humane Association’s Hero Dog Awards, K9 Lakota won the Law Enforcement/Arson Dog category. Officer Travis Fox and K9 Lakota were sponsored by State Farm Insurance which supports the Law Enforcement officers and teams. The family was flown to Beverly Hills to be present for the crowing of the “Top Dog” winner during the televised event hosted by the Hallmark Channel. After the awards show was televised, Corey Fox contacted our project to nominate K9 Lakota for one of our hero portraits.
K9 Lakota passed our program requirements easily and in July of 2014 I began working on his portrait. Since the Fox family was aware of the portrait nomination and acceptance, I was allowed to show progression photos on Facebook for ours and K9 Lakota’s fans to see.
On September 17th, Lakota’s portrait was shipped and had arrived to the Fox family. Corey Fox had filmed Travis unwrapping and seeing Lakota’s portrait for the first time in person. In minutes, the portrait was already hung on the wall they prepared the week before the painting was even completed.
Sometimes our project donates proceeds or sets up fundraisers for some of our portrait recipients. Law enforcement K9 units normally don’t cover additional expenses for the teams and the money comes direct out of the handler’s pocket. For Lakota, we learned the extent of his injuries were so severe that he needed permanent physical therapy to keep his joints and muscles flexible. Their veterinarian recommended a canine treadmill which would be beneficial especially in the cold winter months when physical activity would be limited outdoors. The K9 Hero Portrait Project quickly contacted DogPacer treadmills and created a fundraiser for K9 Lakota. In just a few days, and with the final boost from State Farm Insurance, we raised enough money for not only the treadmill, but also a Sealy Orthopedic dog bed. Lakota received not only the treadmill, but also a wonderful spot to relax after a long physical therapy session.
After being together for another four years, this hero was given a respectful fairwell and last ride. Lakota's family will always remember everyone who supported them during Lakota's life.