ST. GEORGE — The St. George community is mourning the loss of a “buddy” and “protector” – a police K-9 who died Wednesday night due to complications from a medical condition most commonly known as “bloat.”
Police K-9 Officer Rossko – a 5-year-old German Shepherd – served with the St. George Police Department alongside his partner, Officer Joe Watson, since December 2014 as a narcotics detection dog.
During their time together, the duo worked to create a safer environment for the community, and their teamwork led to numerous drug arrests.
Rossko had an 80 percent accuracy rate in narcotics detection, Watson said, adding that within the last five months, Rossko was responsible for more than 44 arrests and located 17.17 grams of hashish, 16.20 grams of heroin, 54.34 grams of marijuana and 17.20 grams of methamphetamine.
When he wasn’t out fighting crime, Rossko would show off his skills at community functions.
While Rossko’s large size was intimidating, Rossko wasn’t an aggressive dog, Watson said. Because of his good nature and gentleness with children, Rossko was known as the Police Department’s “demo dog” and would make special appearances at Washington County schools.
“(He was) Just great for PR to go out there with the kids and show them a better side to law enforcement,” Watson said. “Everybody sees all the bad stuff that happens associated with this job, but it’s great to go out with the kids and see their excitement to see him, and all the kids come and tell me, ‘I want to be a police K-9 cop, someday.’”
In addition to being a playful, energetic dog, Rossko was known for being a bit of a show off.
“I don’t know if you can see on my car there, there’s the handle there,” Watson said pointing at his patrol car. “I’ve actually trained him – he loved to show off his skills – to go over, he’d open and close the door himself.”
For a handler, dogs aren’t just “man’s best friend.” An officer’s K-9 partner becomes part of their family. An unbreakable bond is formed with a love so deep, oftentimes, the K-9 is willing to give its own life to protect the life of its partner.
Watson and Rossko have had each other’s back for the last year and a half while serving the community with the St. George Police Department. But on Sunday, things took an unexpected turn.
Rossko was rushed to Southwest Animal Emergency Clinic to have an emergency surgery for gastric dilation volvulus, a twisting of the stomach that causes severe damage to a dog’s internal organs.
While the condition is fairly common in dogs with large chests, it is deadly even when recognized and treated quickly.
Initially, Rossko was showing signs of improvement following his three-and-a-half-hour surgery.
Watson posted the following update to Facebook Aug. 21:
Rossko is coming along. He ended up needing a blood transfusion due to the blood loss from the surgery. He is doing better now and slowly waking up. No tail wags yet but, he did lift his head when I knelt down to see him. Sounds like he will be staying at the vet tomorrow as well. Feels strange not having my boy around the house. Just hoping he continues to improve and get better.
On Tuesday morning, however, things took a turn for the worse. Rossko’s vitals were reportedly going down, he wasn’t eating, he was running a fever and he had to have another emergency surgery. During the surgery, it was found that Rossko’s stomach had twisted again and that his stomach was decaying.
Rossko passed away Wednesday night.
“He was a fantastic partner and I will miss him greatly,” Watson said. “I will especially miss seeing everybody’s shocked faces when he used to crawl out from under my desk and surprise everyone. He loved to sleep curled up next to me while I did paperwork.”
On Thursday, local law enforcement agencies showed their support for Watson and his fallen K-9 partner, providing a police escort as Rossko’s body, which had been draped with an American flag, was taken to be cremated.
Police K-9 Officer Rossko’s last call was broadcast by a dispatcher for the St. George Communications Center Thursday afternoon. A recording of the broadcast can be found in the video attached at the top of this report.
These on-air announcements are a tradition of the police, and are often made on the day of the police officer’s – regardless if they are human or K-9 – funeral, memorial service or last day of active duty. The last radio call or radio watch is usually a call given in tribute that calls the officer’s number followed by “no response” and an out of service code.
“All units, this will be a last call in loving memory of our K-9 Officer Rossko.
Rossko was here to remind us all that bravery and devotion can travel on four legs. Rossko was a good boy. Thank you for your dedication, service and partnership. You have touched the lives of many. We will remember and love you.
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