The Paso Robles Police Department nearly lost one of its best sleuths this season — one that could track down the bad guys like no other, they say.
“He’s had some amazing tracks over the years — people we would have never found otherwise,” Officer Tod Rehner said of his partner, a 7-year-old German shepherd named Yasko that was imported from the Czech Republic. He knows about 20 police commands — all in German — plus several more in English.
One of three dogs in the department’s canine unit, Yasko lost his back left leg to bone cancer around Thanksgiving. The purebred is now back on the job, but with a few changes.
“This is where he wants to be,” Rehner said. “He loves working.”
On Thursday, the lively animal with the striking brown eyes was busy protecting his patrol car. His authoritative bark advised those gathered near it to stay away.
“He doesn’t know any different,” Rehner said. “To him, everything is the same as it always was.”
But life is different now.
Yasko’s duties have been cut back, and there are a lot of unknowns about the future of his health.
The scans after the surgery showed no cancer, Rehner said, but the disease could still return. His original prognosis, without the amputation surgery, was less than a year to live.
“That has been an emotional rollercoaster, hearing that he just had six more months,” Rehner said.
Rehner said he and Yasko are always together — 24/7. They’re paired up on all their calls. And, after work, Yasko has a kennel to go to at Rehner’s Paso Robles home.
“When he’s at work, he’s all business. Then, when that collar comes off, he’s just a normal dog,” Rehner said. “All that aggression goes away.”
Yasko plays with Rehner’s kids and is always up for a game of fetch.
To add to Rehner’s internal struggle, Falcon, his previous police canine, died of a cancerous tumor in his abdomen in 2003 at age 9.
Purebreds can be predisposed to cancers and other diseases because people breed them for certain traits, and with that comes the possibility for genetic ailments, said Tim Bell, the Paso Robles veterinarian who treated Yasko. German shepherds, he added, are among the types of dogs with a greater chance for cancers as well.
However, for Yasko, amputation was a promise for more time.
Paso Robles’ Friends of the K-9 Inc., composed of local merchants and residents who raise money for the department’s canine force and equipment, paid for the $1,500 surgery. Wal-Mart also donated $1,000 to the group this week so the canine fund didn’t take too big a hit, according to Sgt. David Bouffard, another canine handler and Friends’ president.
“We’re hoping this takes. It’s worked out so far,” Rehner said of the surgery.
Additional expenses for chemotherapy — which could cost $1,000 — might be another option, Bouffard said.
Yasko is trained in protection, tracking, searching, apprehension and narcotics detection. But because of his illness, he’ll only go out on the drug calls now.
“He’ll still be very effective at that, so we’re lucky, but this is a big loss to our program,” Bouffard said. “Yasko was one of the better tracking dogs in the county.”