Howard Lake mourns mistaken death of police dog
Felony, a valued member of the Howard Lake Police Department and a friend to its officers, was nearly 11 years old when he escaped his kennel, ended up at the Animal Humane Society and was destroyed.
By KATIE HUMPHREY, Star Tribune
Last update: November 27, 2009 - 11:42 PM
Most nights, Felony the black Lab rode in the back of a squad car.
As the canine member of the Howard Lake Police Department, he tracked criminals and sniffed for drugs in the lakeside town in rural Wright County. Since 2002, his nose had helped the department uncover narcotics valued at $25,000.
But Felony's career, already slowing as he approached 11 years of age, came to an abrupt end this month.
In a case of mistaken identity and miscommunication, Felony was destroyed by the Animal Humane Society in Buffalo after escaping from his kennel at the city water treatment plant.
"He was nearing the end of his service career with his age getting up there," Police Chief Tracy Vetruba said. "We just didn't expect it to end quite like this."
On Oct. 30, an officer noticed that Felony had broken out of his kennel. Vetruba said police searched but didn't find a trace of the elderly black lab with graying muzzle and paws.
That day, Tammy Bren, of Howard Lake, found a scrawny, spiritless black Lab in her back yard.
"I thought it was an old farm dog that had wandered to town and had been walking for days," Bren said. He was wearing a plain collar without any tags or other identification.
Bren gave him some dog treats, then dumped out a birdbath and filled it with food. "It was eating like crazy," Bren said. "But still, it never wagged its tail or acted happy."
Bren said she turned Felony over to the city dogcatcher, who also didn't recognize the police dog.
Vetruba said police called the dogcatcher and the Animal Humane Society the day Felony disappeared. He said the dogcatcher reported picking up a mixed breed dog, and the Humane Society said it didn't have Felony, either. Humane Society officials said they did not have a record of receiving that call from the police on Oct. 30.
Felony did arrive at the Animal Humane Society in Buffalo on Oct. 31, and his picture was posted online.
Ray Aboyan, the chief operating officer of the society, said its veterinary staff rated Felony's body as a three on a scale of one to nine and described him as bony.
"We concur with the Howard Lake woman who found him and described the dog's description as 'thin and in poor condition,'" he said.
Felony went unclaimed. He was also aggressive, snapping and growling, and was therefore deemed unfit for adoption.
After a five-day hold, he was destroyed Nov. 6.
"Had we any way to know this was a police dog, the outcome would have been quite different," Aboyan said.
'A working dog'
Vetruba disagrees with claims that Felony might have been underfed or neglected.
Felony lived in an outdoor kennel with two doghouses at the water treatment plant, and officers fed him daily and took him on patrol almost every evening, Vetruba said.
"He was a working dog, so he didn't have a lot of extra fat on him," Vetruba said. "He was losing body mass mainly because of his age."
Felony was also growing cranky as he aged.
In one incident in May, he got sick in the back of a squad car and bit an officer. "We were a little bit concerned about his behavior," Vetruba said. "I can't say I'm terribly surprised he showed some aggression."
But officers had not witnessed any more aggressive behavior since that incident.
Vetruba said officers still don't know what happened to the identification tags Felony always wore.
The Police Department learned of Felony's demise when Bren called the department after seeing the dog's picture in a local newspaper around mid-November.
The department had arranged for the picture to appear in the paper, hoping someone had seen the dog.
"We couldn't believe it," Vetruba said.
The department hasn't decided if it will replace Felony.
"Our evening officers loved having him along," Vetruba said. "He was kind of like a mascot for our department."
Katie Humphrey • 952-882-9056
Lots of comments on this story. What can I say? I am saddened, but not shocked. This poor dog deserved so much better from the humans on whom he depended and that includes not only his police department owners, but also the woman who found him and the shelter people who euthanized him.