County will pay police dog’s medical expenses

A former police dog, who was retired by Clayton County last week after suffering severe injuries in a car accident that also left his handler injured, is expected to fully recover, according to a spokesperson from the University of Georgia’s College of Veterinary Medicine.

Clayton County Police Officer Travis Fox, and his K-9 partner, named Lakota, were involved in an automobile accident on Pointe South Parkway, in Riverdale, on Oct. 3, while pursuing a lead on a possible location of a group of men alleged to have committed a home invasion.

The web site for Guardian of the Night K-9, a Locust-Grove K-9 handling business run by Fox and his wife, mentioned on the day of the accident that the officer and Lakota were ejected from the car during the accident. Both Fox and Lakota were injured in the crash, but the couple’s business web site listed the K-9’s injuries as more severe, including a broken back, and a “shattered” back, right leg.

The University of Georgia’s College of Veterinary Medicine hospital has been treating Lakota, since Oct. 5, said college spokesperson, Kat Yancey Gilmore. She explained that Lakota underwent approximately five hours of surgery last Friday, and has since recovered well enough to be moved out of the hospital’s intensive care unit, although he has not yet been released into his handler’s care.

“My understanding, from talking to his lead veterinarian, is that Lakota is expected to make a full recovery,” Gilmore said.

Clayton County commissioners and police officials announced in a joint statement on Tuesday that the county has agreed to pay medical costs associated with Lakota’s recovery. The county commission voted unanimously in favor of a resolution last week to retire Lakota, citing that the K-9 “will not be able to return to duty as [a] full service canine due to his injuries.”

The resolution also says that Fox “wishes to provide for Lakota in his retirement.” The K-9 was given by commissioners, to his handler, as a conditional gift, meaning Lakota would be Fox’s “to have and to hold ... for the remainder of [the K-9’s] life,” but only on the condition that the dog never be sold, loaned or given to someone else.

Lakota was also to never be used again as a police canine, and Fox would be required to surrender the K-9 to Clayton County’s Animal Control Unit, if he was ever no longer capable of caring for the dog, according to the resolution.

Commissioners also commended Lakota “for his years of outstanding service to the community” in the resolution. The Guardian of the Night K-9 web site says that “Lakota has served for 4 years, with 80 successful apprehensions.”

But, by passing its resolution, the county commission also transferred the burden of paying the medical bills for Lakota’s recovery to Fox and his family. County officials said Tuesday that was based on a “misunderstanding,” regarding the Fox family’s request related to Lakota.

“The [commission’s] actions were based upon their understanding that Officer Fox had requested that ownership of Lakota be transferred to him and that he had agreed to be responsible for his medical expenses,” according to the county’s statement. “Based upon subsequent media reports, it appears that there may have been some miscommunication regarding this request ...

“Since Lakota was injured while on duty with the police department, Clayton County has agreed to pay the medical expenses for his care at the university, and he will retire to what we all hope is a long life with Officer Fox.”

The Fox family could not be reached for comment on Tuesday. Their business web site states, however, that the medical care for Lakota was estimated to cost up to $10,000, but they added that the university had offered to provide the care for only $4,500.

Gilmore said Lakota’s surgery went so well that the back, right leg, which the Fox family had thought might need to be amputated, was saved. She said he’s been moved from the veterinary hospital’s ICU ward to “a regular patient ward, where he is recovering with other patients.” The Fox family’s business web site says Officer Fox received severe, but non-life threatening injuries, and a full recovery is expected.

“I’m amazed that they’re both doing so well,” Gilmore said. The college spokesperson also said she has heard reports from Lakota’s doctors that he has been behaving himself, so far, through his recovery. “He’s a beautiful dog, and obviously well-trained,” Gilmore said. “Given what he’s been through, despite the accident, and the surgery, and being separated from his partner for a week [Officer Fox and Lakota reunited Tuesday, in Athens], I’ve heard no reports of him being mean at all.”

Atlanta residents, Denico Deangelo Hawkins, 34, and Quinton Lamont Oliver, 32, and Hapeville resident, Ramon Gartez Blalock, 18, have been charged with a litany of crimes, in connection with the home invasion, to which Fox and Lakota were responding. The charges Hawkins, Oliver and Blalock face, include: Armed robbery, burglary, obstruction of an officer, giving false information to a police officer, and possession of a weapon during the commission of a crime.

The car Hawkins, Oliver, Blalock and a fourth suspect, Kenneth Fortson, 21, were traveling in, after the home invasion occurred, was involved in a separate car accident around the same time of the accident involving Fox and Lakota. Fortson was killed by what is believed to be a self-inflicted gun shot wound he received during the accident, involving the car in which he was traveling. Police have said they determined that the gun shot was accidental.