As the tune of “Amazing Grace” played on bagpipes faded into the wind, officers from across North Texas paid their respects to Chico, the Denton County Sheriff’s Office’s K-9 officer who was found dead near Wylie last week.
With the sounds of a gun salute still lingering, more than 100 attendees braved the cold to pay their respects to the 4-year-old Belgian Malinois.
“Chico was more than just a dog; he was a deputy sheriff,” said Sgt. Larry Kish during his introduction at the service held in front of the Denton County Sheriff’s Office on Thursday afternoon.
The K-9 went missing from his second handler, Matt Rollins, on Dec. 20, when a cold front and high winds blew a gate open. A report was filed with the Wylie Police Department when Chico was discovered missing.
“He was shot the afternoon of [Dec. 21] when a property owner took Chico as a threat to his chickens,” said Kish during an interview earlier this week. “The property owner is not facing any charges, as he has a right in Texas to defend his livestock.”
Investigators Kish and Capt. Tracy Murphree discovered Chico dead near Mallard Point, an unincorporated part of Collin County, Friday morning after the property owner who shot him reported the dog might be the sheriff’s office missing K-9.
The sheriff’s office obtained Chico and Sonny Smith, his first handler, in 2009 to detect narcotics.
“His name was actually Cico, which is how it was spelled on his papers when he was exported from the Netherlands,” said Smith, who now works as an agent for the state of Montana.
“I thought Cico, pronounced ‘psycho,’ is probably not the best name for a large dog, might be difficult for people to understand or pronounce and the instructors at the U.S Customs training facility thought that Chico just suited his personality more.”
Smith, a narcotics investigator with the sheriff’s office from 2007 to 2011, even shared a birthday — April 2 — which they celebrated together with a large rib-eye steak.
“It is hard to understand what he meant to me, but imagine spending at least 10 hours a day working alongside someone and being responsible for their well being every day,” Smith said of his love for Chico.
“A K-9 handler must plan for the day around the needs of the dog. It is like having another child, ensuring their food was packed for the day, you brought enough water, towels and always thinking about what activities or training you had to conduct. Believe me when I say the care and time you place into the welfare of your dog strengthens the bond.”
Former Sheriff Benny Parkey, who helped implement the continuation of the K-9 service to the sheriff’s office, said Chico and his handler provided an invaluable talent.
“Together with his handler, they were responsible for many seizures of money and drugs,” said Parkey in an e-mail Wednesday.
“One such seizure was a bus interdiction in February of 2011,” Parkey said. “During a check on a bus at a station, Chico alerted on a suitcase that contained $272,000 in cash. This was drug money that was headed back to Mexico to the cartels. This is but one example of the type of work Chico did and the service he provided.”
Those who knew Chico said he was more than just a dog helping uncover millions in elicit currency and numerous large narcotic seizures, he was a deputy who expected nothing in return for his hard work and dedication other than a small reward, the chance to play with his rolled white towel.
“Working with Chico was always a blast. He was always looking for something to get into and loved to goose people. He would goose people then walk on for about three steps then look back to see their reaction. If he had the ability to smile, I am sure you would see a large grin,” Smith said in an e-mailed statement, since he couldn’t make the service.
Officers from various agencies, former K-9 handlers and some military personnel arrived with their service dogs to show respect during the memorial.
“Kyra, a 9-year-old Belgian Malinois, just arrived back from her last trip in Iraq,” said handler Bill Queitsch, a 21-year retired Air Force veteran from Irving.
“Kyra specialized in explosives and we just came because we felt a connection after reading the story of Chico,” Queitsch said. “It’s just very touching and we wanted to show our support.”
Sheriff Will Travis said Chico will be listed with all other Denton County fallen officers.
“Chico will be honored with the utmost respect as all officers who have laid their lives on the line to make our community a safer place. Goodbye, my friend. You will be missed,” Travis said.
MEGAN GRAY can be reached at 940-566-6885. Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org .
HOW TO HELP
Flowers can be sent to the Denton County Sheriff’s Office Administration Building, 127 N. Woodrow Lane, Denton, TX 76205, and donations may be made to the Denton County Law Enforcement Association at P.O. Box 1794, Denton, TX 76202, in the name of Chico.