Memorial ceremony honors police dogs that died in the line of duty

National Police Week has been in existence since the early 1960s, when President John F. Kennedy signed a proclamation that declared May 15 as Peace Officer’s Memorial Day. The day falls during National Police Week.

A fairly recent addition to National Police Week’s annual events lineup returned to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial in D.C. on Wednesday, two years after it was sidelined due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The National Police K-9 Memorial Service was held in person for the first time since 2019.

“We’re very happy to be able to honor these dogs now,” said Judi Reilly, president of the National Police Dog Foundation. The organization helps law enforcement agencies get needed funding to buy and train police dogs and helps replace ones that die in the line of duty. They also assist with the medical care for active and retired police dogs.

“That’s why this was a little bit [of a] longer service because we honored the three years as they should have been honored,” Reilly said. This year’s service honored fallen police dogs from around the U.S. that died on duty during 2019, 2020 and 2021.

The K-9 memorial ceremony started in 2018, continued in 2019, but the event in 2020 was canceled due to the national COVID-19 emergency.

At Wednesday’s gathering, the name of each dog was read one by one, followed by the ding of a bell, and a law enforcement officer carrying a single red rose to add to a growing pile — one for each fallen dog.

“This ceremony is very emotional because, yes, they are a tool that we utilize, but they do become your best friend,” Casi Meiklejohn, a deputy handler with Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office said. “The biggest part is, we spend more time with our dogs than we do our families. They come to work with us; they go home with us … when the dogs retire, they retire with us. So a lot of our time and energy goes into working with the dog,” she said.

“You build a bond with them. So when you when you hear of a case passing in the line of duty, it just it hits home … they’re part of our family,” Meiklejohn said. Although she hasn’t lost one of her police dogs, she said losing one would be like losing a family member or a co-worker.

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