A Vermont police officer says it was simply the right thing to do: adopt her K-9 partner as a personal pet after a medical emergency forced his unexpected retirement.
"It doesn't feel the same," Officer Sarah Bellavance of the South Burlington Police Department said of patrolling the city in a cruiser without K-9 Rumble in the back seat. "I miss him a lot."
Rumble, a German Shepherd puppy, was just starting the rigorous training to become a police dog, when a limp showed up.
It turned out Rumble had a bone disorder. An X-ray showed a joint wasn't fully formed.
"His elbow is not stable," Bellavance explained.
That meant he couldn't do the jumps and obstacle courses required to get his badge – not without pain, at least – and any police career he could’ve had would have been a short one.
"He was actually picking up on it really well," Bellavance said of Rumble's earliest training with her.
The officer said every good cop should stay loyal to his or her partner, so when Rumble was permanently sidelined, she didn't hesitate to adopt him as her pet and gave him a place in her home.
"I think we take care of each other," Bellavance said of members of law enforcement. "You always have each other's back."
Bellavance also led a fundraising campaign, with donations from friends, coworkers, and neighbors helping cover an expensive upcoming surgery.
Chief Trevor Whipple of the South Burlington Police Department said any extra money raised will go into the department's K-9 program, which is already searching for a new dog.
"I want to make sure we have a dog with the right attitude," Whipple said of the search. "Particularly now, where we're seeing so many issues with the opiate problem, having a dog that can assist you in identifying if there's drugs in a vehicle or in a building of some sort is incredibly valuable."
Whipple noted that Rumble had shown great promise as a police dog, because of a nice temperament and an apparent interest in tasks such as locating objects.
After Bellavance took on the challenge of caring for a special needs dog, it seems that old police adage of "protect and serve" can extend to the way humans treat animals.
"I'm his person, I like to think," Bellavance said, smiling.
Bellavance said even though she no longer brings Rumble to work with her, she does have other pets at home that will make sure he has companionship when she is away from him on duty.