Retired Rhinelander K-9 police officer Drago vom Heiliger Huegel, pictured here with his partner Angela Welch, passed away on March 21 at the age of 13, the department announced Sunday. Photo by Jamie Taylor/River News.
3/26/2020 7:29:00 AM Local police mourn the loss of retired K-9 German Shepherd helped keep city safe for 9 years
The Rhinelander Police Department is mourning the loss of a retired officer who served the community honorably for nine years.
"We are so sad to announce the passing of retired K-9 Drago," the department announced on its Facebook page Sunday afternoon.
Drago, whose full AKC registered name was Drago vom Heiliger Huegel, was born in southern Wisconsin on Jan. 21, 2007, according to the Facebook post.
He joined the RPD in April 2009. He was obtained from Steinig Tal Kennels in Campbellsport, where he and his partner Sergeant Angela Welch completed a four-week certification course.
The two became a fixture in the Rhinelander community.
In an interview Monday, Welch said her former partner succumbed to old age.
"He was almost 13 1/2, he turned 13 in January," Welch said. "So he was a pretty old dog."
Drago retired at the end of 2017 after nearly 9 years of service. At that time, his ownership was transferred from the city to Welch. Drago spent his retirement napping, relaxing, and spending time with his family, according to the Facebook post.
Welch said Drago adapted well to retirement.
"He just did a lot of relaxing and napping and hanging out," she said. "In his final years in retirement, he spent it relaxing."
Drago was a dual purpose certified police dog, meaning he was not only good at detecting narcotics and other drugs, but all aspects of patrol work, including tracking, evidence recovery, building searches and more.
Although he rode with Welch on every shift, he had a total of 546 callouts resulting in 147 narcotic finds and numerous criminal apprehensions. In an interview just prior to his retirement in 2017, Welch said she never had to release Drago on someone.
"When we show up, people tend to give up," she said at the time. "And, in all honesty, that's what we're looking for. We're looking for voluntary compliance from people, and in that aspect, Drago has been 100-percent. When we give announcements, people surrender."
Welch said the department will hold some kind of memorial service for Drago at some point, but with the current COVID-19 situation and other pressing matters, it may take some time.
"Once everything settles down and back to normal, I'm sure we'll put something together for him," she said.
Welch said all the messages of support in reply to the department's Facebook post announcing Drago's passing are very much appreciated.
"We're very grateful for all the condolences and that people thought so highly of him," she said. "Thank you."
In the Facebook post, the RPD noted Drago's legacy will continue, as two new K-9 officers are now on patrol.
"Drago will be missed by his law enforcement family. We are grateful for his service and pray he can rest easy knowing his fellow K-9's, Odin and Jason, will continue holding the line," the post said. "Good boy Drago."
Jamie Taylor may be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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