Photo by Heather Middleton
By Joel Hall
While his origins began in a kennel in Germany, Champ -- a member of the county's K-9 Unit since January of 2003 -- was born to fight crime in Clayton County.
While almost 9-years-old, seven of Champ's years have been spent on the force with handler and veteran police officer, Lt. Anthony Thuman. During that time, the German Shepherd has located 70 criminal suspects, won fights with two violent attackers, and aided police in locating $549,872 of stolen currency, and drug money.
The rigors of active duty, however, have caught up to the canine officer in his mature years.
In February of 2009, Champ was diagnosed with arthritis in his hips. A Jan. 26 examination at the Fayette Veterinary Medical Center revealed that Champ's arthritis had become more pronounced and had spread to his shoulders.
After a lifetime of locating bad guys, he will spend the rest of his days taking it easy. On Tuesday, during their regular business meeting, the Clayton County Board of Commissioners officially granted Champ his retirement.
Thuman, who has worked for the Clayton County Police Department for 16 years, has cared for Champ since the animal joined the force. He said that while Champ is healthy, multiple missions have taken their toll on the canine officer.
"Overall, he is a healthy dog, but he is a 9-year-old German Shepherd," Thuman said. "He is starting to slow down a bit. Numerous deployments affect the dogs, just like it affects people. Right now, he is showing some signs of age."
According to Thuman, Champ's first mission on the police force was tracking an armed robbery suspect in Forest Park. Shortly after the suspect had robbed the Kings Inn off Frontage Road, Champ located the suspect hiding in a wooded area near the State Farmers Market, Thuman said.
Since then, Champ has assisted with the apprehension of violators, ranging from persons fleeing the scene of an accident, to murder suspects, Thuman said.
While primarily a tracking dog, Champ has taken his fair share of bruises, with 13 of his 70 apprehensions being the result of physical takedowns, according to Thuman. In two of those takedowns, Champ overpowered physically violent suspects, he said.
Despite his 100-pound frame, and the fact that he takes orders in German, Champ is a laid-back animal with an insatiable love for kids, red chew toys, and Milk-Bone dog biscuits, according to Thuman. He said Champ gets along fine with his roommates, who include Thuman and his family, two cats and two other dogs.
While Champ will live out the rest of his days in his owner's care, Thuman, who was an animal control officer prior to being a canine handler on the police force, said it will be strange not taking Champ to work. He said the $10,000 spent by the county to train him and Champ to work as a team has more than paid off over the years.
"He's able to find narcotics, and he's also able to find people ... he's another tool to expand your capabilities as an officer," Thuman said. "He's just going to live out the rest of his days with me. The only thing special he's got coming is that I said that when he retires, I'd cook him a steak. I figured he's earned his steaks."