Chesterton Tribune

 

 

Retired K-9 partner Harley passes after brief illness

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By KEVIN NEVERS

Harley, for five years the Porter Fire Department’s K-9 partner, the anchor of the Porter County Search & Rescue Team, and Fire Chief Jay Craig’s best friend, has passed after a brief illness.

He was 8.

Harley’s final call was shortly after 6 p.m. Wednesday, at the Westchester Animal Clinic, following a police escort from the PFD station provided by Porter, Burns Harbor, and Chesterton officers. On his arrival, dozens of members of the fire service lined the clinic’s parking lot to salute him, and to honor a dog who so often had done his duty.

Harley was a 7-month-old rescue when Craig adopted him in November 2010, without the slightest idea that he was special. “I picked him up because I wanted a pet,” Craig told the Chesterton Tribune. “Since I was 20 I'd always wanted a standard-colored German shepherd.”

But Harley quickly proved himself a glutton for work, eager to learn, hellbent-for-leather to perform. “We always wanted a search-and-rescue dog on the department,” Craig said. “And after we worked through the standard obedience training, we realized he had the skills and drive that we’re needed. And we ran with it. It was his drive that set him apart. He loved to work.”

Harley officially joined the PFD in February 2012 and served loyally and steadfastly until his retirement in May 2017, after being diagnosed with degenerative myelopathy (DM), a congenital disease of the spinal cord. Craig doesn’t believe, however, that DM was responsible for his final illness, which over the last few days had left him lethargic and unresponsive.

For Harley, it was always about the job--the search, the track--and the tennis ball, of all things, on the other side of it. “The tennis ball was his reward,” Craig said. “That's why when he swallowed one several years ago”--necessitating expensive surgery which Porter residents gladly donated to pay for--“I couldn't stop giving him a ball. That was his paycheck.”

Harley was unique in other ways too. He had an intuitive knack for knowing which way the wind was blowing, for playing it by ear. “He could judge the situation we were in and act appropriately,” Craig said. “I could take him into a kindergarten class and he’d just lay down and let the kids pet him. And then I could take him outside and tell him to search and he would search until I told him to stop. At home he was the great protector. When other people were around my children he was watchful and wary. He was just amazing at reading the situation and acting accordingly.”

Over his five years with the PFD and Search & Rescue, Harley participated in 31 operations. Micah Bell, a volunteer with Search & Rescue from the Porter County Emergency Management Agency, recalled in particular Harley’s indefatigability. “As soon as he came out of the truck he was ready to work. That dog would not stop. We’ve had multiple searches in the summer, when it was hot and nasty, and we’d have to pull Harley out of the field and get him back in the truck to cool him off and rehab him. He just would not stop. That’s what was wonderful about him.”

Bell remembered one search in Duneland, on a cold, foul, rainy night, when a young man with medical issues wandered from his house. A search was initiated and within 10 minutes Harley had found the man, well off the side of the road in a wooded area. “He walked up to the kid, popped him in the chest with his snout, and then barked. I have no doubt Harley saved that kid’s life.”

“We based our Search & Rescue Team around Jay and that dog,” Bell added. “Jay always followed Harley and we’d have someone follow Jay. Now when we train, someone’s always got a Harley story.”

Craig, grieving today, expressed his profound gratitude to the staff of the Westchester Animal Clinic for easing Harley’s last moments. “They stayed open after hours to help us. They cleared the parking lot. Everyone stayed on to say farewell. I just can’t say enough.”

And Craig thanked the residents of Porter as well. “I'm grateful to the community that has always supported him, who fundraised when he was sick. Harley was definitely a one-of-a-kind dog who made people’s lives better through his search work and his community work.”

 

 

Posted 6/21/2018

 
 
 
 

 

 

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