Social media is on fire with accounts of retiring police officer Matthew Hickey and his canine partner of the past four years, Ajax. Officer Hickey retired this past Monday, after more than 30 years of service to the city of Marietta, Ohio. He understandably wants his canine partner to retire with him.
I saw innumerable Facebook posts and petitions this morning, sharing the sad story of this pair. People are upset at the thought that these two will be separated after their years of service to the community. The Marietta, Ohio Facebook page has had so many comments that they posted this statement:
Your voices are being heard and your comments are important. All posts that have been received have been passed on; however, Facebook is not the best way to reach those officials who are making decisions regarding retired Officer Hickey and K-9 Ajax. To ensure that your comments are heard, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Before retiring Hickey asked how much Ajax was worth and was told his value was set at $3500. So Hickey set up a GoFundMe site to raise the funds, and the community rallied behind him. The $3500 was collected in record time. On his final day of work, Officer Hickey tried to hand the money to his captain. That’s when he received the devastating news that he would be unable to purchase Ajax.
The problem isn’t a heartless city council or police department. The problem is actually two-fold: 1) Ajax is considered property, no different in the eyes of the law than a shovel. He belongs to the City of Marietta and is valuable asset. 2) Ohio State law restricts what can be done with active police dogs.
Ohio State Code 9.62 allows Police Officers to purchase retiring canine partners for $1.. But Ajax isn’t retiring, Officer Hickey is. And the law specifically states that retiring officers lose the right to purchase the dog at this reduced price. Because of his worth, State law requires that Ajax be offered to the highest bidder.
Matthew Hickey is worried that bidding will take the price of his buddy beyond his means. The auction is restricted to police officers, either active or retired, or K9 officer trainers. It’s a pretty safe bet that there will be no police bidding against Hickey, but there are no guarantees.
As of writing this, the GoFundMe site had raised $22,000 for Hickey to use to bid for his partner. According to sources involved with the fundraising, any excess funds will be used to purchase bullet-proof vests for canine officers.
For now, Ajax is at home with his trusted partner. The bidding process is expected to begin sometime next week and to take several weeks to complete. Until then, the pair will have to live with uncertainty.
This situation could easily happen again unless changes are made to the state law to support K9 partnerships in retirement. But even then, communities could choose to keep their valuable police dogs, even when their handlers retire.
What really needs to happen is to see change in the way companion and working animals are viewed in this country. A canine officer is not a shovel. He is not the same as a gun. He is a sentient being who has repeatedly been placed in danger, for the good of the community. In my mind, Ajax deserves the same respect and consideration as any human police officer.
Featured image via WBNS-10TV