Please don’t pick him.”
That’s what Sgt. Stephen Wheeles thought to himself the day he was second in line among a few officers preparing to select a police dog.
The Indiana State Police trooper had completed his K-9 school training, which had started in September 2007, and was second in seniority that day. He didn’t want the officer ahead of him to pick the dog he had in mind.
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“We watched them do bite work, chase tennis balls and played around with them for a little bit to see what their personality was,” he said.
One stood out among the group to him, a dog named Lord that had a great ball drive and a high spirit. Wheeles said the dog was able to do his work but also was gentle and sociable.
“For some reason, the guy in front of me didn’t pick him, and I was surprised,” he said. “I picked him, messed around and played with him and really fell in love with this dog.”
Wheeles didn’t hesitate when he made his selection, and he was later forged a bond that few in law enforcement get to experience: Their own K-9 partner.
Wheeles changed the dog’s name to Kane, and the two spent eight years alongside each other making arrests, finding drugs in vehicles, assisting at multiple incidents and visiting local schools for demonstrations.
On Monday, the 13-year-old full-blooded German shepherd that was nearly four years into his retirement was euthanized because his health had begun to decline rapidly.
Wheeles said he handled the fact he was losing Kane all right and was with him until his last breath. But that’s when it became real.
“It kind of hit me then, and I wasn’t prepared for it as much as I thought I was,” he said. “I got to be with him, but it was tough.”
What happened next was a special moment for Wheeles.
Kane was to be cremated at Woodlawn Family Funeral Centre, a business owned by former Seymour Police Department Officer Andy Rumph.
Rumph also does the work for free for K-9 officers’ handlers. He even includes a memorial box.
Rumph had contacted law enforcement in Seymour to provide a police escort from the west end of Seymour all the way to the funeral home.
“That was cool,” Wheeles said. “It was really neat because they took him all through town to the funeral home.”
Kane retired to Wheeles’ home in Brownstown in July 2015 after an eight-year career, but the moment was one he didn’t understand.
Wheeles had been assigned to the Indiana State Fair, worked and came back home to get a few things before heading back up.
“I let Kane out while I packed my stuff,” he said. “I come back outside, and he’s sitting next to my car ready to go to work. It was kind of sad, and he actually did that for a while.”
Before long, he realized he wasn’t going to work anymore and was all right.
The family has a small Yorkie that would rule the house.
“Here’s Kane, a big retired police dog, and he gets bullied by this little Yorkie,” Wheeles said. “He would just turn his head when he’d get up in his face.”
Wheeles, who has three children, said Kane became a member of the family, and they never had any issues with him.
“You obviously spend a lot of time with them, and they just become part of your life,” he said. “He was always part of us.”
Wheeles said he always had to be careful because Kane was trained to bite anyone who he perceived as hurting his handler without a command.
“Thankfully, that never happened, but I had to be careful about having him around because he could have perceived a handshake or pat on the back as someone attacking me,” he said. “It was always something I was worried about.”
Kane was very good at finding drugs and impressed Wheeles with his ability.
He recalled one investigation at home in western Jackson County.
People hide drugs in a number of places at homes, and it can be difficult to find all of the places, Wheeles said.
Not for Kane.
Wheeles said police were at a workshop and thought they had found everything that was in the home when Kane sat near a workbench and table.
“I called him, but he would still sit there and stare at a table for some reason,” he said.
Wheeles said he walked over and found a magnetic case underneath the table that was filled with marijuana and other drugs.
“He wasn’t going to leave it,” he said.
The chase is on
Wheeles assisted another trooper who had pulled someone over on Interstate 65 near the truck scales.
He remembers the trooper telling him to get Kane ready. The driver was in a police car, but a passenger was still in the vehicle that had been pulled over.
“I gathered that he thought the guy was going to cause an issue rather than searching for drugs,” he said.
That’s when the passenger got out of the car for a patdown but took off on foot.
Wheeles took Kane out of the vehicle, and they took off after the man.
The man climbed a fence behind the scales and ran through the field out of sight. Kane couldn’t jump the fence, so Wheeles had to lift him up over it.
“Kane didn’t miss a beat and went down the ditch and to the field out of my sight,” he said. “I thought, ‘He’s on him, and he’s got him.’”
Wheeles said he made it to the field and saw the man slow down, but Kane was nowhere in sight. He said he turned his head and found his trusty K-9 partner a little focused on the wrong task.
“Kane is playing with these huge horses, circling them and having a good old time,” he said. “I turn and see him hopping around them and playing. The horses are bucking and carrying on.”
Wheeles had to chase the man himself and tased him in the middle of the field. Kane finally came over to the area and ended up bringing his new friends along for the arrest.
“I’m laying around trying to get this guy, and these horses are all around bucking and sniffing,” he said. “Finally, another trooper came to help. That shows Kane was still a dog and their instincts will take over.”
Wheeles remembers another time when his shift ended one night and he came home. He got out of the car and told Kane to go to his kennel.
But instead, the dog went after a neighbor’s cat.
“This is in the middle of the night, and I see him going down the street and running around the neighbor’s house,” he said. “I am trying to yell for him but didn’t want to be too loud. The cat went up a tree, and he came back.”
Paying their respects
Wheeles, who serves as the Versailles District’s public information officer, announced Kane’s passing on his social media account. He included photos throughout the years, too.
The post has drawn more than 3,000 reactions, nearly 500 shares and more than 750 comments with users sharing their condolences.
“One of the things I wasn’t expecting were the people who have sent messages sharing their memories of him,” Wheeles said.
The two visited schools throughout their time together, and he has heard from people who attended then. Kane loved the visits, Wheeles said, and especially enjoyed spending time with children.
People also have shared their memories when they interacted with Kane in public.
Wheeles said Kane leaves a void because he spent so much time at work, through training and at home with him throughout his life.
“You have a special bond working with them every day,” he said. “I think it’s a special bond, and it’s definitely different than a regular pet.”
Wheeles said he was interested in becoming a K-9 officer since he graduated from the Indiana State Police Academy in 2000. With a partner like Kane, it’s not a decision he regrets.
“I’m glad I did it. The ending is kind of tough, but I really enjoyed our time together,” he said. “He was a good dog and loyal friend. I was fortunate to have had the dog I had.”