Sheriff’s Office K-9 retires after about 7 years on the job

Published 3:43 pm Monday, March 6, 2023

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Freeborn County Sheriff’s Office Deputy Josh Partlow stands with now retired K-9 Officer Stalker, whose last day on the job was Feb. 28. Stalker was ready to play tug-of-war, his favorite game. Sarah Stultz/Albert Lea Tribune

After about seven years with the Freeborn County Sheriff’s Office, K-9 deputy Stalker has retired from service.

Patrol Deputy Josh Partlow, who has been Stalker’s handler since 2017, said Stalker’s last day was Feb. 28.

Over the years of his service, Stalker has had 192 deployments, including 116 patrol deployments and 76 narcotics detection deployments, Partlow said. Of those deployments, Stalker assisted in the arrest of 77 people.

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Partlow said if Stalker alerted to drugs on a vehicle and a person was arrested after the search of that vehicle, then that arrest was credited to Stalker. The same was true if Stalker helped find someone in a building search or a search in woods or other locations.

“There’s definitely some times where without Stalker we wouldn’t have found some of these people,” Partlow said.

He recalled an instance where a man intentionally crashed his car into another vehicle near Home Depot, and the suspect then fled into a nearby field. He said someone had seen a person walking in a field, and he and another officer and Stalker started walking down a long, rural driveway in the direction where the person was seen.

“All of a sudden, Stalker’s ears perked up and he started pulling me to the left,” Partlow said. About 40 yards into the woods, they found the suspect up against a tree.

He also remembered an experience where officers were in pursuit of a few individuals in construction near the new Albert Lea fire station. The individuals had ditched their bikes at the railroad tracks and took off running. The officers gave commands for the people to come out, and then Partlow began giving warnings that he was going to release Stalker. The next thing they knew, the individuals came out from behind some bushes, begging them not to release the dog.

Partlow said Stalker came from Slovakia, and the Sheriff’s Office worked with a company called Performance Kennels out of Buffalo. The owner and trainer worked for the Brooklyn Park Police Department and was in charge of their K-9 unit. Stalker, a German shepherd, went through four weeks of narcotics training and 10 weeks of patrol training, learning everything from apprehension, article searches, agility, obedience and tracking.

Partlow said he and Stalker had done a handful of demonstrations over the years, with Stalker quickly becoming the point of attention. He said Stalker, who was named in honor of Corey Goodnature, a chief warrant officer in the U.S. Army who was killed in action in 2005, is very sociable and friendly and loves to have people pet him.

Though Partlow has already overseen Stalker around the clock both at work and home for most of the K-9’s life, he said Stalker will continue under his care — just now as a pet for the remainder of his life. Partlow said the county previously covered all of Stalker’s vet bills and food, and with the transition, Partlow purchased Stalker for $1 and will now be in charge of all of his bills.

“He’s just going to relax at home and hang out,” Partlow said of his K-9 partner.

He said Stalker’s favorite game is tug-of-war and said he loves to play outside in the snow.

It has already been an adjustment for Partlow to not have his four-legged partner with him at work. He said when he would respond to a call, he was used to rolling Stalker’s window down about 10 inches in his squad car. On Saturday, his first day back to work after Stalker’s retirement, he still found himself reaching for the window even though Stalker was no longer in the back seat.

Sheriff Ryan Shea said he hoped the department could get a new K-9 probably in 2024 after some internal promotions are complete and open positions are filled.