JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Four-legged crime fighters are among the frontline heroes in the Jacksonville community and around the nation, serving and protecting every day.
K9s United -- a local nonprofit -- is giving back, offering free training for K-9 officers. It’s a paws-on workshop to fine tune their skills.
“Maybe they’re tracking but they’re not tracking as good as they would like for them to be, or there are some problems that have come up and these dogs can come here and work those problems and the trainers can help them advance through that," said Sgt. Jeremie Nix with the Marion County Sheriff’s Office.
Jacksonville police officer Matt Herrera was working with a new K-9 after his partner, Fang, was killed in 2018 during a suspect pursuit.
“I heard a succession of two gunshots back to back followed by a third. In between two and three, I heard Fang yelp, and as soon as I came over the embankment I saw him coming to rest from falling and being shot," Herrera said. "I knew right there he was done.”
It was a difficult experience for Herrera to overcome.
Now, he has a knew K-9 partner named Ghost, and he’s developing another bond. It’s something K9s United says is invaluable.
“That animal is not only protecting the community by going and getting bad guys off the streets that plague these cities and communities around the nation with crime and blight, but they protect you,” Herrera said. “They enable you to go home every night, without a doubt. Fang gave me that opportunity to go home to my family and my children that night.”
One young officer -- the only female K-9 officer in her department -- traveled some 450 miles for the free opportunity.
“It makes a world of difference, especially as a new handler who’s eager to learn and make a difference. And they want the team to be better, the unit to be better. It’s everything," said Maddie Benfield with UNC-Greensboro Police Department.
If you’d like to help the nonprofit, head to K9s United’s website.