An El Cajon, Calif., police canine and former Instagram star is making waves on the internet once again, this time as the subject of an online petition that seeks to reunite him with his previous handler.
More than 137,000 people have signed the change.org petition titled “Keep K9 jester with his human!”
For 2½ years, the public watched through the window of social media as Jester, a Belgian Malinois, and El Cajon police Officer Jordan Walker, worked — and played — side by side.
There were videos of Jester snatching tennis balls from the air at lightning speed, and an amusing number of photographs featuring the pup in eclectic costumes.
Jester’s Instagram had about 219,000 followers before it was taken down.
Early this month, Walker announced via the popular account that he would be leaving the department — and Jester. Although he said he was initially “hoping and praying” he’d be able to take his furry partner with him, Walker said he came to realize that was selfish.
Walker wrote in the post that Jester “still has lots of work left in him.”
“He is an amazing working pup,” the officer said.
Jester was assigned to a new partner, Officer Randall Gray, and was staying at the city’s animal shelter until his new handler could build a kennel of his own to house him. The department did not say whether that has happened.
The two will attend a training academy later this year before hitting the streets, the department said.
“It is not uncommon for strong, healthy police service dogs to be reassigned to a new handler if their current one leaves the K9 Unit because of a promotion, divisional transfer or separation from the department,” the agency said in a statement.
The average retirement age for an El Cajon police canine is 8 to 10 years, the department said. Jester is about 5 years old.
The decision didn’t sit well with many who had watched Jester over the years, and soon after the petition was launched.
A GoFundMe account was also created in hopes of raising enough money to buy Jester from the department and replace him with another trained, police canine. As of Thursday evening, the account had raised more than $8,500 of its $25,000 goal.
“Yes, K9 Jester loved to work and does have a couple more years left to work, but this does not mean he should lose the one person who he formed such a special bond with,” the GoFundMe account read. “I think some of us forget that working dogs are dogs with emotions too.”
Caz Potts, a Florida resident and one of the people behind the effort to reunite Jester with his former handler, said the dog’s health and happiness are their primary concerns.
But the online community that has rallied around the dog appear to disagree with the city on what is best for him, with both sides saying they have canine trainers in their corner.
In an email shared with the San Diego Union-Tribune, El Cajon City Manager Graham Mitchell said many of the concerns he’d heard from the public about the pair’s separation “stand in stark contrast to recommendations of police K9 trainers.”
“If Jester were to retire at this young age and the City were to give him to Jordan, Jester would be stuck at home all day while Jordan is at work,” Mitchell wrote. “A dog, whose great treat is to go to work with his partner, would be highly confused every day he would get left behind.”
Conversely, Potts said she and others feel Jester’s separation from his original handler is the more traumatic experience. She added that canine trainers she’s spoken to have said there is no guarantee Jester will bond with his new partner or — if he does — that the bond will be as deep as it was with his first handler.
“There are so many other canines who get retired and they cope just fine,” she said. “So why would Jester be any different?”
It’s not the first time a dog being separated from a handler has resulted in public outcry. In Pennsylvania, canine Abal was separated from Officer Richard Galanti after he was transferred to a new unit at the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority earlier this year.
Abal had lived with Galanti and his family for five years before the separation, and they were devastated when he was taken from them, according to media reports.
The family fought to keep the dog, even offering to buy him, and a petition was launched to reunite them, media reports read. Abal was returned to the family after a veterinarian determined the dog had a bulging disc in his back.
Walker, who now works for the Carlsbad Police Department, could not be reached for comment.
Winkley writes for the San Diego Union-Tribune