Officer says sad goodbye to canine partner

Newport Beach Police Officer Shawn Preasmyer remembers the day six years ago when he brought home a new partner — and a new roommate.

It was pouring rain as he set up a kennel for Ringo, the Dutch Shepherd who would live with him for a few weeks before a training program would match them up for good.

Ringo was Preasmyer's first canine partner but he joined another dog at home that day. The officer remembers Ringo meeting his chocolate Labrador retriever.

"The lab spins around on him and kind of says, 'We're going to be friends, but I'm going to rule the back yard,'" Preasmyer said.

Ringo retired from the police force in October 2009, but on Nov. 8 of this year, the department and Preasmyer said a permanent goodbye.

The officer reminisced this week about Ringo, so far his only canine partner, who was euthanized earlier this month at 13 years old.

"We lost a part of our family when Ringo had to be put down," Newport Beach police spokeswoman Jennifer Manzella said as Preasmyer showed off the dog's badge and identification card.

The Newport Beach Police Department staffs two canine officers. The dogs and handler are assigned together for the life of the dog. They live, work and train together.

They are on call 24 hours a day to search for fugitives or drugs.

"One of my last narcotics searches was a search for CHP and [Ringo] found a bunch of heroin, maybe a pound or so, stuffed behind the dash," Preasmyer reminisced.

In 2007, Ringo was without a partner after his handler left because of an injury, and Preasmyer decided to try out for the position.

After six weeks of training with Ringo, the two were bonded.

Ringo was eager to follow the officer's commands and be rewarded with a floppy toy Frisbee or other encouragement.

"You have to get down on the ground to basically talk baby talk to these dogs," Preasmyer said, explaining how officers motivate their charges.

Because they're such a small crew, police canine handlers are a tight-knit brotherhood in Orange County, said Officer Mike Fletcher, Newport's other K-9 handler.

He and Preasmyer train with handlers from nearby agencies. An Irvine police handler, Officer Bob Smith, has a reputation for concocting the most extreme training scenarios.

Fletcher and Preasmyer have used harnesses to lower their dogs from the side of a bridge into water, where a target was waiting to be bitten, and sent them into waste-deep ocean water to practice apprehending a suspect.

Ringo was an especially eager dog, Preasmyer said.

He remembers his charge's ears pricking up at the slightest ping from a patrol car radio.

During a search for a kidnapping suspect on the Balboa Peninsula, Preasmyer put Ringo into the back of Smith's car for a rest while they took another dog out.

Instead of resting, Ringo gnawed through one of the car's headrests.

"He chewed the seat up, just out of pure boredom," Preasmyer said, laughing.

That energy was key for a dog who might have to chase down a suspect at a moment's notice.

Ringo retired from the force because of health problems and lived as a pet for the last four years with Preasmyer and his family.

But Ringo's spine was slowly fusing together. In November, Preasmyer made the decision to end Ringo's life.

"It's was awful," Preasmyer said. "It was probably one of the hardest decisions I ever made."

Preasmyer's fellow handlers were a big help in getting him through the process, the officer said. They understood the difficulty of deciding to end your partner's life.

"As a handler, it's got to be probably the worst thing you ever do," Fletcher said. "But in turn it's probably the best thing you can do for your partner who took care of you."

On Nov. 8, Preasmyer and a group of canine handlers from throughout Orange County gathered at the Costa Mesa Animal Hospital.

Fletcher brought a protective arm covering with him into the room where Ringo would be euthanized, but Preasmyer was worried.

Ringo was now a pet, and it had been years since he would leap through the air to joyfully latch on to the arm of a bite suit.

"I didn't know if Ringo would take it," Preasmyer said.

Fletcher tapped his arm, showing where to latch on.

"I tell Ringo to bite, and there he goes, and they start playing," Preasmyer said.

The doctor who had been standing back with an IV inserted the needle into Ringo.

"He goes out doing what he loves," Fletcher said.

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