After nearly four years of service, the University of Iowa Department of Public Safety announced that it is retiring one of its K-9s at the end of the month.
K-9 Falo, a 5-year-old Belgian Malinois, joined the UI Police Division in March 2015, and is set to retire due to a medical condition called spinal stenosis.
Spinal stenosis refers to a narrowing of the spinal canal, which puts pressure on the spinal cord and can cause pain, numbness, muscle weakness and impaired bladder or bowel control — symptoms that do not bode well for a working dog.
“We consulted with specialists and experts to see if there was something we could do to treat him, but in the end it was apparent he would not be able to work anymore,” said K-9 Officer Jackie Anderson, Falo’s handler.
“Our job is not sedentary,” she added. “Often we’re tracking over timber, we’re climbing fences, running up and down stairs and Malinois don’t have a slow speed — he’s either on all the time or asleep, he doesn’t know how to slow down and take it easy.”
Additionally, Anderson said working could aggravate or worsen Falo’s condition.
Falo is trained as a dual-purpose K-9, specializing in explosive detection and patrol, which includes tracking, apprehension, handler protection and evidence recovery.
During his career, Anderson said Falo has been deployed 187 times, with eight successful tracks that led to apprehensions of a suspect. Falo also is the only K-9 in Johnson County to have a physical apprehension under his belt, meaning he is the only dog that has had to actually administer a bite.
Additionally, Falo has also seen a number of successful searches that led to evidence recovery.
On June 12, 2015, Falo located the firearm used in the Coral Ridge Mall homicide, and on June 15, 2017, he located a bullet and shell casings related to a shooting in Iowa City. On Dece. 16, 2017, Falo located the gun used in an armed robbery in Iowa City and on Aug. 4 os this year, Falo located evidence used in an Ottumwa home invasion.
The Coralville and Ottumwa cases are two that Anderson said she is particularly proud of.
“In the Coralville case, we were able to locate and recover the murder weapon that day,” she said. “And in the Ottumwa incident, our track led us through a 60-acre bean field and another 30 or 40 acres of timber, and we were able to locate and recover several crucial pieces of evidence, including a firearm and a knife.”
Additionally, Falo has worked four years of Hawkeye sports seasons, keeping fans, players, and our community safe before, during and after games. This includes every home football game, as well as large events like the National Invitation Tournament and the Wrestling World Championships held at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in 2018.
“Being a K-9 handler, and working with Falo, has afforded me a lot of opportunities that I wouldn’t have otherwise had,” Anderson said. “Just in the past few years, we’ve gotten to work with the Secret Service and traveled all over the state clearing venues and transport for various politicians.”
During the last presidential election, Anderson said she and Falo “worked probably 60 campaign events.”
“I’m really proud of him and the work we’ve done together,” she said. “I’m sad that he has to retire. I am going to miss working with him and I’m going to miss working and training with our other K-9 team, Officer Jess Bernhard and K-9 Jago. They’ve been a huge part of my life and have been great to work with. “
Though Anderson will not be retiring with Falo, for now she is a K-9 handler without a K-9, but she said when the department decides to purchase a new dog, she will apply to be its handler.
“It really is my passion,” she said. “I’ve learned in the past four years that this is what I love to do, and it’s important work. I’m not ready to not work a police dog and I’d hate to leave that at this point.”
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In the meantime, Anderson said she and Falo will be adjusting to his new life as a house and family dog with his canine siblings Izzy and Roscoe, both pit bulls that were rescued from abusive situations.
The UI Department of Public Safety said it intends to purchase another K-9 in the future, but has not specified a timeline. In the meantime, the department said K-9 Jago and his handler Officer Jess Bernhard will continue to serve the University of Iowa community as well as area law enforcement.
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