Elderly K9 Officer Receives Hero's Salute Before Being Put Down: 'He Was Family'
A New Jersey K9 officer has received a full fireman's goodbye before he was put down, while surrounded by friends and family.
"I loved him. He was my best friend," Chief Dan VanFossen of the Pattenburg Volunteer Fire Company told InsideEdition.com. "I'm devastated right now. The hardest part was making the decision to do what was best for him."
The department, along with other fire departments and other law enforcement agencies in the area, bid the former K9 Bandy farewell earlier this week.
Although the 10-and-a-half-year-old German shepherd was in failing health, VanFossen said the most emotional part of the ceremony was watching him enjoy the attention and crowd, moments before the veterinarian would put him down.
"He was happy," VanFossen said. "He sat there with his tongue hanging out, happy that all the people were there. We're all crying, and he's sitting there with his tongue hanging out. That was the hardest part."
K9 Bandy arrived to the Pattenburg Volunteer Fire Company six years ago. VanFossen said he and his late stepfather had set up the department's first K9 unit, and VanFossen became his official handler.
"Me and him trained every day of the week," VanFossen said. "He stayed with me and he was a big part of my life."
The German shepherd soon rose among the ranks, and became one of the top tracking dogs in the world. He's also reportedly found numerous missing people in New Jersey, including a suicidal man in 2014.
Over time, VanFossen said Bandy's health deteriorated. He retired from the force last year, and has since been plagued by a variety of health problems, including urinary tract infections and problems with his liver.
He also developed hip dysplasia, and was soon unable to move his hind legs. When Bandy didn't have his wheelchair during walks, VanFossen said he would hold his rear up, to displace some of the weight.
"In the last week and a half, he would whine," he said. "He was in pain."
Eventually, a veterinarian informed VanFossen and his girlfriend, Jen Macri, the secretary of the Pattenburg Volunteer Fire Company, it was time for Bandy to be put down.
"As much as I didn't want to make that decision, it's not fair for him to have to live like this," he said.
So, VanFossen and Macri spent Bandy's final days doing all the things he wanted to do, including indulgent meals of steaks or cheeseburgers. "Anything he wanted," VanFossen said.
He even slept in Bandy's kennel at the fire house that was built for him after he started having difficulty walking.
"It's just a big chunk of my heart missing right now," VanFossen told InsideEdition.com. "He was our best search dog. He was family."
While the Pattenburg Volunteer Fire Department continues to grieve the loss of their former K9 officer, they have requested that any donations dedicated to training a new K9 officer be sent to their firehouse at P.O. Box 5363, Clinton, NJ 08809.