More than 5,000 people are demanding that a K9 police dog be allowed to retire with his longtime handler — part of a larger outrage over the animal’s temporary stay in a North Carolina shelter.
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The clamor started Thursday when former Dunn police officer Nathan Ingram posted a picture of “Pac Man” on Facebook, declaring, “I’m really going to miss this dog right here!
“He has been right by my side for the past three years. It has been the best three years of my career working you and having you as my partner. Keep working hard buddy!!!”
As friends offered sympathy, Ingram further explained, “We sure do have a bond. He is the Department’s k9 and unfortunately at his age he was not let to retire.”
Social media outcry and petition
Ingram’s post prompted dog lovers across North Carolina to circulate photos of Pac Man, insisting that he had been abandoned at the county’s shelter rather than continuing life with his handler.
A petition on change.org described Pac Man as a 7-year-old canine with medical issues, including a bad leg, and that the department had declined Ingram’s offer to buy him.
“This officer deserves better than what he is getting,” wrote Lisa Hunt on the petition, which had 5,336 signatures Tuesday morning. “Free Officer Pac Man!”
Then on Saturday, Dunn Police Chief Cary Jackson issued the department’s response on Facebook, insisting that Pac Man had always gotten good care.
In October, Jackson wrote, the dog handler got placed on medical leave by a doctor and was unable to handle K9 duties. The dog, officially known as K9 Apacs, got placed in the care of another experienced handler within the department.
“At no time has K-9 Apacs been ‘abandoned’ at the Dunn Animal Shelter,” she wrote. “Rumors of neglect regarding K-9 Apacs could not be further from the truth. The animal is a healthy, loved, and respected member of this agency.”
She explained that Dunn is building a new kennel for Pac Man at the home of his new trainer, but it had not been completed Saturday. It was not clear from her statement whether Pac Man had been kept in a shelter at any time since October, or for how long. Jackson did not respond to an email asking this question Tuesday.
Angry Facebook posts
Meanwhile, Dunn’s animal control shelter has received so many angry Facebook posts that it shut down comments on the police chief’s explanation.
The police department’s face got a similar bombardment:
“What are you doing for others, Dunn Police??” wrote MT Habick. “Locking a loyal 7 year veteran officer in the shelter for months?? Whoever made the decision to not retire Pac, I hope you ROT.”
The commotion over Pac Man continued at a Dunn council meeting Monday, partially aired by WRAL.
“It would be an injustice to K9 Apacs to retire and not be able to do what he lives to do, which is work and provide a service to the city of Dunn,” Jackson said at the meeting.
Ingram also spoke, telling city leaders, “At the end of the day, I just want Pac Man to come home, and I would ever be grateful if he could … and retire respectfully and enjoy the last few years that he may have left.”
The National Police Dog Foundation says K9s typically retire at the handler’s house. But the average age for retirement is 10.
NC Reality Check is an N&O series holding those in power accountable and shining a light on public issues that affect the Triangle or North Carolina. Have a suggestion for a future story? Email [email protected]