Crime-fighting canine loses battle with cancer

Yasko and Handler Sgt. Tod Rehner pose for a past Paso Robles Police Department photo.
Yasko and Handler Sgt. Tod Rehner pose for a past Paso Robles Police Department photo.

The Paso Robles Police Department recently lost what officers describe as one of its best trackers — a 7-year-old German shepherd named Yasko.

The purebred, just two weeks shy of his eighth birthday, died May 21 after a six-month battle with cancer and a leg amputation.

The Tribune featured Yasko in December, when he had just returned to his police work after losing his back left leg to bone cancer around Thanksgiving. His original prognosis, without the amputation surgery, was less than a year. The department reached out to the community and paid for the amputation, hoping it would stop the cancer from spreading.

The scans after the surgery showed no cancer; however, the cancer likely spread through his body before the amputation and “was too small to be picked up by the X-rays at the time,” Sgt. David Bouffard said.

Yasko, imported from the Czech Republic, knew about 20 police commands — all in German — plus several more in English.

For the past six years, Yasko and handler Sgt. Tod Rehner worked on suspect detection and apprehension, and narcotic detection.

Rehner has said he and Yasko were always together. They paired up on all their calls, and after their shifts, Rehner took Yasko home.

“Yasko was a great dog and a better partner,” Rehner said after Yasko’s death.

The dog helped with many arrests over the years, according to police, including a 2008 arrest in which he tracked and located a hiding armed robber.

“Yasko tracked the suspect for nearly 45 minutes along a one-mile maze of asphalt, dirt, rocks and railroad tracks to the suspect’s eventual hiding place, where he was arrested,” Bouffard said.

How Yasko’s death affects the police department

Yasko was one of three dogs in the police department’s K-9 program.

The city of Paso Robles is cutting costs across the board to ride out the recession, officials said, so the department isn’t certain when a new canine can be added.

Purchasing a new police canine, with cross-training for both protection and narcotics detection, costs about $13,500, including all associated handler training, police Chief Lisa Solomon said.

The community group Friends of the K9 raises money for a variety of the program’s needs, Solomon added, and it will continue to help support the two canines that remain.

Reach Tonya Strickland at 781-7858. Stay updated by following @tstrickland on Twitter.