Should retired police officers be allowed to keep their K-9 partners?

Ohio state law permits dogs to be adopted by their former handlers, but only if the canines have reached the end of their working lives. For one former officer and his German Shepherd partner, this posed an issue.

A dog is a man’s best friend, after all.

And the friendship between Officer Matthew Hickey of Marietta, Ohio and his K-9 partner, Ajax, will prevail, but it wasn’t without a fight. After a retirement letter, a viral crowdfunding campaign, and some negotiations with the local government, Mr. Hickey has been allowed to keep his German Shepherd companion.

Over the past three years, the two have worked together everyday as part of the Marietta police force. When Hickey decided to retire in late January, he wasn’t ready to part ways.

"Ajax is a family member; he's one of my children," Hickey told WBNS-TV News.  

But while the 30-year veteran of the force earned his retirement, Ajax still has some years left to work. If he had been an older dog, Ohio state law would have permitted Hickey to adopt him for $1.

“City Law Director Paul Bertram researched and found that because Ajax is not ready for retirement, how he is handled is mandated by the Ohio Revised Code,” the office of Mayor Joe Matthews wrote in a statement Monday. “That is the law. This is the very law that both former officer Hickey and I have sworn to uphold and with which we are both very familiar.”

So, Hickey tried another option – he tried to buy Ajax, who is almost 6 years old, from the city. He offered the city council $3,500. But according to state law, Ajax is considered city property and cannot be sold, but auctioned.

“Officer Hickey has earned his retirement, [but] his partner, Ajax, has several working years left,” Marietta police chief Robert Hupp told the Columbus Dispatch.

Worried that the auction price would exceed his budget, Hickey resorted to online fundraising. Within four days, his GoFundMe campaign raised nearly $70,000 – well above the original goal. The campaign’s creator, Correy Orr, said any additional funds will be donated to an organization that provides K-9 dogs with bulletproof vests.

"I kind of retired wanting to be a hermit and left alone because I worked the midnight shift since '96 and I was jaded, but now I am a changed man because of the support," Hickey told CNN.

Meanwhile, the City of Marietta’s Facebook page was bombarded with comments and messages in support of Hickey and Ajax.

As reported by the Dispatch, Mr. Bertram on Monday said that it was never the city’s intention to separate Hickey from his canine partner. So, the city came up with another option: If Hickey continues with the police department as an unpaid auxiliary officer, he could eventually adopt the dog once Ajax reached retirement age.

But at this point, the city of Marietta said it was confronted with a major PR crisis.

“As social media and the press ramped up around what should have been now rendered a non-issue, former officer Hickey, for reasons known only to him, escalated the situation by being disingenuous. At every juncture, former officer Hickey chose to omit that he and I had a plan for K9 Ajax’s future and that the resolution kept Ajax with Hickey at no cost to him,” the mayor’s statement read.

Still, the offer of auxiliary officer stands: “In spite of what has already happened, the city of Marietta still wishes to extend an appointment to the position of a police auxiliary force member to former officer Hickey,” the statement concluded, “It is the position of the city just as it was Thursday night, that this is the best possible resolution for the city, the police department, former officer Hickey and Ajax.”

Hickey is currently deliberating the bid. He told the Dispatch that he’s “talking it over with my family and my [Fraternal Order of Police] rep."

All the while, money is still pouring in for the GoFundMe campaign. Out of the nearly 3,000 donors, some are from as far as Australia and the United Kingdom.

Hickey is focused on changing Ohio law to make it easier for police officers to stay with their canine officers. Ajax is living in his home for now.

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