Guilderland police were working with heavy hearts Monday, Aug. 27 -- the day they lost a very talented and trustworthy friend.
Niko, a 9-year-old German shepherd, who was the department's second police dog, died after being diagnosed with Hermangiosarcoma, a form of cancer that affects the cells in a dog's blood vessels and is common in the German shepherd breed.
Niko, who was born on Oct. 10, 1997, became a member of the Guilderland Police Department in January 1999. A graduate of the Southern Tier Police K-9 Academy in Binghamton, Niko was trained specifically in officer protection, and worked closely with his handler, Guilderland police Sgt. Donald Jones.
Lt. Curtis Cox, who observed Niko in action on several occasions, said if anyone tried to harm Jones, Niko would exit the car immediately and go after the bad guy.
Despite his tough training, Niko wasn't always fierce, and displayed a unique canine personality that made it easy for him to separate work from play.
"One of Niko's strongest attributes was his gentleness yet ability to get the job done," said Acting Police Chief Carol Lawlor.
Jones said he was very fond of his sidekick's people-pleasing talents.
"Niko loved showing off what he could do but also loved playing with kids and just being a dog," he said. "He seemed to have the ability to detect who was afraid of him and would do his best to 'win over' that person, letting them know he was their friend."
Aside from his training in officer protection, Niko was also certified in tracking, building searches, criminal apprehension, evidence searching and narcotics detection.
He assisted in hundreds of drug busts, conducted missing person searches, and used his special senses to locate the evidence police needed to convict or identify criminals.
"He was involved in many different types of cases here, and was a very valuable resource for us," said Cox, who noted that the department has not found a replacement for Niko yet. "You don't just go to kennel and find a dog. It has to be evaluated, and we have to make sure it fits the criteria," he said.