Columbia K-9 ready for dog days

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Pictured, Columbia Police Department Sergeant Zack Hopkins and Daggo begin their last day as a team before Daggo begins retirement.

The best time to welcome a furry family member is usually not while caring for a 16-month-old child with another on the way, but that’s exactly what Kathy Hopkins, wife of Columbia Police Department Sgt. Zack Hopkins, agreed to in late 2013.

Just after Thanksgiving that year, the Hopkins house became the off-duty home for CPD K-9 Daggo.

After nearly nine years of service with Hopkins as his partner and handler, Daggo served his last day with the CPD on Monday before officially retiring and becoming the Hopkins family pet.

“It’s one of the best jobs,” Hopkins said of working with Daggo and developing a unique bond not only through training, but also the extensive time spent together both at the office and at home.

“It’s not easy,” Hopkins said of having a K-9 partner. “You have to put in the work.”

It also required patience at the beginning, as Daggo was relatively young, joining the CPD as a 22-month-old German Shepherd from Czechoslovakia. 

Following a six-week training course – and Hopkins brushing up on his German language skills – the duo has since been inseparable.

Hopkins said he enjoyed the challenge of an assignment requiring Daggo’s specific skills.

“(The other officers) are depending on you to perform,” Hopkins said, likening the feeling to participating in competitive sports. “It’s awesome.”

The Hopkins-Daggo team was able to compete with a home field advantage in 2017 when Columbia hosted the three-day United States Police Canine Association K-9 Field Trials at Bolm-Schuhkraft Park.

Hopkins also helped organize the event. 

He and Daggo took home the second place overall trophy, also winning second in obedience, third in subject search, and first overall in teamwork with two Cahokia officers.

He said one highlight of working with Daggo was the excitement of a tracking or search assignment.

Hopkins recalled one memorable on-duty tracking experience involving a vehicle stolen in Columbia by three juveniles. Hopkins and Daggo responded to Waterloo, where the vehicle had been abandoned, and Daggo was able to detect the suspects in a brush-filled area where they had fled.

Hopkins and Daggo have also detected narcotics for the Metropolitan Enforcement Group of Southwestern Illinois and the Drug Enforcement Agency.

While the searches provided an adrenaline rush, Hopkins says the best part of working with Daggo has been the past four years as school resource officer in Columbia. 

He thanked the Columbia school district for providing the opportunity to let students and the community realize what makes Daggo so special.

Hopkins said one of the best qualities of Daggo is his ability to “know when to flip the switch” between just being a dog and being an officer.

To illustrate, Hopkins noted while Daggo can make a patrol vehicle shake with a bark when on duty, he also knows when to be calm.

Hopkins shared a story about Daggo getting a snack from his son Drew. 

“(Drew) was at home eating Cheetos and Daggo was watching him because, well, he wanted a Cheeto,” Hopkins began. “Daggo looked at me, then he looked at Drew and then took it out of his hand very softly because he knew he was supposed to be gentle.”

At Monday’s Columbia City Council meeting, Hopkins addressed the large group of fellow officers and family on hand for Daggo’s retirement. 

“It has truly been an honor,” Hopkins said. “The community is lucky to have a dog as good as Daggo.”

Columbia Police Chief Jason Donjon thanked Hopkins and Daggo for the duo’s hard work not only in the realm of law enforcement, but also as members of the community who bring “smiles to adults and kids alike” while out in the community and during public demonstrations.

In addition to a special thanks to his wife for opening their home to Daggo, Hopkins also gave credit to a number of fellow members of law enforcement for their help and guidance. 

Hopkins credited CPD Sgt. Josh Bayer and Cahokia officer Gary Craig, saying “without those two, I would not be the officer I am today, and Daggo would not be the partner that I have today.”

Bayer was the officer assigned to the CPD’s first K-9 officer, Cezar, back in April 2005. 

Hopkins said he was able to “follow (Bayer’s) leadership and pick his brain” as the only officer in Columbia with prior K-9 experience.

He added Bayer was “instrumental” in Hopkins’ and Daggo’s development as a team and Bayer was a “go-to” whenever Hopkins needed help with a problem.

Hopkins said he and Craig met as a part of a K-9 training group and developed a “very special friendship and bond through their dogs” and working closely with each other for the past eight years.

Hopkins said he also relied on the experience of retired Monroe County Sheriff’s Department sergeant and former K-9 officer Jim Lansing.

“I very much leaned on (Lansing) for support,” Hopkins said, thanking Lansing for sharing his  knowledge gained by working with  MCSD K-9 Sari.

Hopkins also thanked former CPD chiefs Joe Edwards and Jerry Paul in addition to current chief Donjon.

With Daggo retiring, it will be Hopkins who will provide insight for the other two CPD K-9 officers, Raz and partner Kyle Hannon, and Blu and partner Jake Degener.

As for Daggo, Hopkins said after Monday’s meeting, they were heading home to enjoy “just being a dog now.” 

Pictured, from left, Columbia Police Department Chief Jason Donjon, Sergeant Zack Hopkins and Columbia Mayor Bob Hill wish CPD K-9 Daggo a happy retirement during the Columbia City Council meeting Monday night. 
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