The Zionsville Police Dept. is mourning the sudden loss of Thor, a K-9 officer who joined the department in 2017.
ZPD Capt. Drake Sterling said Thor, a 6-year-old Belgian Malinois, had recently been acting lethargic, and a visit to the vet on Jan. 9 revealed that his lungs were operating at only 70 percent capacity and that his condition wasn’t likely to improve.
Thor, who was born in Hungary, was trained to track humans and detect narcotics. Sterling, ZPD’s public information officer, said Thor was “very successful” and that his “biggest bust” was helping police locate 5 ounces of meth and $6,800 during a traffic stop.
“He was an ideal police dog. He knew when to work, and he knew when to play,” Sterling said. “He immediately locked onto what the task at hand was. At the same time, he wasn’t scary. We knew when we got him out of the car, and he had a break or had training, he could walk around with people on shift, and you weren’t afraid of him.”
Thor’s first handler was Jacob Shelburne, but when Shelburne was promoted to detective in mid-2021, the responsibility went to Officer Cameron Smith.
Sterling said ZPD plans to replace Thor with another K-9, but because his death was unexpected, the department had not set aside funds to secure another police dog, which can cost more than $16,000. If ZPD can’t identify funds to purchase a new dog this year, Sterling expects it will be included in the 2023 budget.
Sterling said ZPD’s officers develop a unique relationship with the K-9s.
“It’s similar to the brotherhood of police work in that you work next to them, you work the long midnight shifts with them,” he said. “Some of the best memories are the ones where you get them out in the middle of a track at 2 a.m. You’re tracking through the woods for an hour, and you remember that, but at the same time you try to remember it’s a tool for us, a working tool that we use to do some of the stuff we’re not able to do.
“As much as you try to separate yourself from the work versus the relationship, it’s not always easy. ”
ZPD’s lone remaining K-9 is Mika, who joined the department in 2020.
Thor’s death came approximately 18 months after ZPD lost K-9 officer Jelka to an untreatable cancer. At 2 years old, Jelka made a remarkable recovery in 2017 after being struck by a vehicle while playing fetch with her handler. ZPD K-9 officer Eso took an early retirement in 2017 because of a variety of health concerns. He died the following year. A police K-9 can typically work for eight years or more, Sterling said.
“It seems like we’re having bad luck right now,” he said.
Tax-deductible donations in Thor’s memory are welcome in ZPD’s K-9 fund. Learn more at zionsville-in.gov/582/K-9-Program.