Merced County sheriff's deputies are mourning the death of one of its beloved dogs -- a member of the department's K-9 division.
Axle, a 4-year-old Belgian Malinois, was found dead April 22 by his deputy handler. The dog was found in the deputy's back yard, according to Deputy Tom MacKenzie, sheriff's spokesman.
According to an autopsy, the dog died from exposure. MacKenzie said the recent spike in temperatures may have been a contributing cause to its death, even though the dog had access to plenty of water.
The department hasn't released the deputy handler's name. MacKenzie said officials don't believe the deputy is at fault in the dog's death.
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Axle had been with the department for two years, working as an apprehension and narcotics dog. MacKenzie said deputy handlers have a special relationship with the dogs. The dogs are considered part of the team, as if they were a fellow deputy.
MacKenzie said the dogs can perform a variety of tasks, ranging from finding illegal drugs to searching for missing persons and taking down criminals.
Axle was a dual-purpose dog, trained as a protection and narcotics detection K-9. "Law enforcement can't function without them," MacKenzie said. "They are a tried and tested tool of law enforcement."
The Sheriff's Department has six dogs in its K-9 division.
City Editor Victor A. Patton can be reached at (209) 385-2431 or email@example.com.