Huntington Beach Police Department says goodbye to Marco, a K-9 officer of eight years

An undated picture of Marco, a Belgian Malinois.
An undated picture of Marco, a Belgian Malinois that was part of the Huntington Beach Police Department’s K-9 unit. Marco died on Feb. 27.
(Courtesy of Wade Wilson)

When police officers are selected to be part of the K-9 unit, they are given two straight weeks to bond with their new charges before they attend a five-week training course.

Looking back, Huntington Beach officer Wade Wilson remembers the day in November 2013 when he first met Marco, a 75-pound Belgian Malinois. Wilson laughs when he recounts how he had to lure Marco into the patrol car with some water.

“He growled at me,” said Wilson, a 23-year department veteran who has been involved with the K-9 unit from the beginning of his career.

“Some departments rename the dogs, but he was Marco when he came from Europe. I kept the name. He growled at me and we did a couple of tests. But the very second day? He was ready to go to work.”

That was how their partnership started.

Wilson said Marco was what the department called a “dual purpose” dog, which meant he was used for both apprehension and for detection. Wilson and Marco were on hand to support any searches that other officers might need them for.

Marco trains for an arrest by using force.
Marco trains for an arrest by using force. He officially retired in January this year and was partners with Officer Wade Wilson for eight years.
(Courtesy of Wade Wilson)

The Huntington Beach Police Department was unable to confirm the number of arrests that Marco performed — as Wilson and Marco were not always on the same calls — but Wilson ventures the two probably went on thousands of alarm calls and searched probably hundreds of buildings and fields in their partnership of just over eight years.

Marco died on Feb. 27, just about a month after his formal retirement from the police department. Wilson thinks a combination of things might have contributed to his demise, though he knows Marco was pretty old for a dog of his size. Marco was born in 2010, which would have made him about 12 when he died.

At Marco’s last physical, the veterinarian wanted the police dog to come back for some blood work to check on his liver. There were some numbers that seemed off. Nothing alarming, but it was a measure to take just in case.

Wilson said he remembers the day that Marco died; he was acting different than usual.

“Toward the late evening of the 27th, I said ‘Something’s not right.’ He just wasn’t himself. I’ve been around him for eight years. I picked him up and ran him to the animal hospital in Mission Viejo and I think he passed away on the way,” said Wilson.

“Not all of my tears have been [shed], but a lot of them are,” said Wilson. “I can tell people now. It was a little bit of a blessing in disguise where I didn’t have to make the decision of keeping him around longer when he was in pain, for my own satisfaction. In that sense, I think he passed away peacefully. I’ve had to put down a couple of dogs, but it was better for me to not have to put Marco down.

“It’s never easy. It always happens so quick.”

Marco sits with evidence from a narcotics arrest in December 2017.
(Courtesy of Wade Wilson)

More than his partner at work, Marco was also a beloved family pet at home. Wilson said Marco bonded with his family from the first day he brought him home and that he had a great “on-off switch.”

“He would be a different dog while working or training. Once we got home, he flipped the switch and he was just a pet at home where he’d be like your dog rolling over on his back, wanting his belly rubbed,” said Wilson, who added his three children also loved Marco.

The public loved Marco, too.

“We did well over 100 public appearances or demonstrations in the eight-year span, which is probably why I have thousands of pictures of him.”

Huntington Beach Police Officer Wade Wilson poses for a photo with Marco.
Huntington Beach Police Officer Wade Wilson poses with Marco on one of their “off-days” at Patriot Hill in San Juan Capistrano. Wilson said the trail was one of their favorites.
(Courtesy of Wade Wilson)

And that’s true — when prompted for photos for this story, Wilson sent well over a dozen of them; some with his family, some with him, but Marco at the center of it all.

Wilson said he would love a chance to get partnered with another dog in the future, though he said it isn’t a common practice in the Huntington Beach Police Department to switch between K-9s.

Most handlers for the department only ever work with one dog, he said, though he thinks he might apply if there’s ever another opening before he retires. If Marco was still alive, Wilson said it might have been awkward to bring home another working dog.

“Marco would have still wanted to go,” said Wilson, laughing. “Even in our off-time, if I got up, he was looking for me. As difficult as it is, it is a lot of fun. It’s the best job in the police department, by far.”

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