Former police canine dies Dog joined

A retired Columbus police canine who was known for his tracking talents and aggressively going after the smell of narcotics has died.

K-9 Rex, who made nearly 250 apprehensions since joining the police department in July 2008, was put to sleep Monday at the Hope Veterinary Clinic.

His handler, K-9 Officer Chad Lehman, said Rex was surrounded by members of his family, including all the Lehmans and the Columbus K-9 handlers and their dogs at the clinic.

“He was surrounded by everyone he loved,” Lehman said of Rex.

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Lehman said the family knew the day was coming, but had not expected it to arrive so soon after Rex’s retirement this past February at age 10.

In his retirement, Rex had been learning how to relax, playing a lot of fetch and catch with tennis balls — just being a dog instead of upholding his reputation as a talented tracking dog and an aggressive drug alert dog, Lehman said.

Rex once tracked a suspect across Haw Creek near the hospital, and found a woman after tracking her 2 miles through the woods, Lehman said.

He had the reputation of a dog that would be very aggressive when he smelled narcotics, Lehman said.

When he started with the department, Rex would scratch to get to the source of the smell of the drugs, his handler said. But over the years, Rex became a little more aggressive and would actually grab a door handle of a vehicle if he smelled drugs near the door, Lehman said.

“He actually opened up a few of those doors,” Lehman said.

But Rex wasn’t a one-dimensional police dog, he said.

“He was just well-rounded,” Lehman said. “Level-headed. He was always alert. He knew where I was all the time. If I was out of the police car, he would look out the front window through the front seats and watch,” he said. “He wasn’t really hyper, but he would get excited if I was running lights and sirens.”

Rex’s last public appearance was a demonstration last January at the Bartholomew County Library, but he had also done numerous demonstrations for the DARE program and the Columbus Youth Academy, where students learn what police officers do.

Rex was very sociable and would allow people to pet him.

Lehman said Rex only bit about nine people who he was trying to apprehend, and never held a grudge afterwards.

“He would bite a bad guy, but then he’d just go back to normal,” he said. “We’d be at the emergency room and he’d let the nurses there pet him afterwards. He never had any hard feelings to whoever he had to bite.”

Rex was born in the Czech Republic in 2006 and was acquired by the police department from the Ventosa Kennels in Scotland Neck, North Carolina. He became Lehman’s partner in April 2008.

Although Lehman will miss Rex, he has a new partner, a 2-year-old Belgian Malinois K-9 named Niko, who joined the department on active duty this summer.

The Columbus Police Department issued a statement saying Rex touched many lives during his time in Columbus and in surrounding communities and will be deeply missed.

And Lehman knows Rex felt the love of his fellow officers, particularly when he was riding in a police car with Lehman and they would pass another Columbus police car.

“Rex always enjoyed work and would get excited whenever we would drive past other black and white police cars,” Lehman said. “After he retired, I took him for a ride, and he still got excited about it.”

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Julie McClure is assistant managing editor of The Republic. She can be reached at jmcclure@therepublic.com or (812) 379-5631.