ROCHELLE — Later this year, Rochelle Police Department K9 Axel will be retiring from duty.
RPD Officer Ryan Beery has been Axel’s handler since 2016. Axel’s skills include finding drugs and other items, tracking fugitives, finding people that are lost, handler protection and crowd control. His certification is good through March 2023, but Beery and RPD Chief Eric Higby said Axel is nearing the usual number of service years for a K9 and Beery will soon be moving to RPD’s detective desk.
“Axel has done a great job,” Beery said. “His career has been awesome. You have a K9 on a department for what you might have to do and the safety it provides your fellow officers. And he's a great tool. He can find drugs, people, money and keep us safe. He's a locating tool. That's what he's there for. When the situation calls for it and he does his job, it's worth everything."
Beery called the experience of working with Axel over the years “humbling” and “rewarding.” When he first got into K9 work, he didn’t understand how much work it would be. Training and working with a K9 successfully is one of the hardest jobs in law enforcement, Beery said.
One memorable experience with Axel was being called down to Earlville for a manhunt. Beery and Axel were assigned to a team and searched all night.
“He jumped right in with the guys and we just flowed all night long searching farms, houses and the woods looking for this guy,” Beery said. “I was super impressed with him and so were the people we worked with. He worked so well with everyone.”
Beery and Axel have also done some work with the federal government and were involved in the seizure of “a good amount” of narcotics in 2020.
Higby said that K9s are “wonderful” public relations tools that can help communities like Rochelle to get to know their police department. Beery said he and Axel have been to many schools in Northern Illinois for demonstrations and speaking with children. He’s been to nursing homes to visit the elderly.
“Letting people love on him and letting the kids play with him has been great,” Beery said. “The public relations and the relationship with the community in Rochelle and Northern Illinois has with Axel is irreplaceable. That's something that means more to me than anything. You can build a bridge with a community through a K9. It builds bridges to anybody. Because everyone likes a dog.”
Higby said Axel has been “exceptional” as a K9 for the department over the years and the department has been fortunate in the past with its K9s and their work. The RPD chief said he’d like to see the K9 program at RPD continue in the future with a new dog and handler.
In years past, RPD has held a fundraiser to get a new K9 to cover the expenses and posted an opening internally to see if any of its officers are interested in being a handler. That will likely take place in the future if the program continues.
K9s typically cost between $12,000-16,000 and the eventual handler would be sent for training, Higby said. RPD would use its current K9 vehicle for the program again in the future. New policing laws have changed how K9s can be used in the field, but Higby believes having one will still be useful in the future.
“We've had success with the program in the past and the only thing that gives us pause right now is just the current state of affairs with the laws that are passing,” Higby said. “K9s are still useful. The laws have made it more difficult to be as productive with them, but they're still useful."
After Axel’s retirement and before another potential K9 comes to RPD, the department will have access to the Ogle County Sheriff’s K9 unit if one is needed. Higby thanked the city and the residents that supported the K9 unit during Axel’s time.
“It's valuable and it's another tool for us,” Higby said. “It's not something we use every day, but when you need it, you need it.”
K9s are typically 18 months to two years old when they’re brought from overseas by kennels before departments go and match up handlers to dogs. K9s have already undergone basic training before joining a department.
In retirement, Axel will live with Beery and his family, as is common with K9s and their handlers.
“My kids love him and go for walks with him,” Beery said. “He's a good dog for them. He'll just be able to unwind. He's going to enjoy retirement. You can see in his face and posture that he's getting older and he's tired. But he's still that crazy dog that wants to work and I don't think that's ever going to go away from him. He'll always be a working dog. I'll find a purpose for him and put him to work at home. But I want him to enjoy it and get his health better and his weight up. Not having to be in and out of the car so much will help."
Beery called his move to detective and Axel’s upcoming retirement “bittersweet.” The K9 has been with him through changes in his life since 2016. He reflects fondly on the memories and interactions that working the K9 unit have brought.
“The amount of time I've spent with Axel every day for 14 hours a day, that's going to be really tough,” Beery said. “It will be tough not hearing him in the back of the car. I'll miss searching cars and doing the other things with him. It will be different for me. But I'm excited and thankful that I was trusted to do it. It's been very rewarding.”