K-9 officers from all over West at service

More than 600 people - and 50 patrol dogs - crowded into the Douglas County Fairgrounds on Friday to say goodbye to Jon-Jon, the sheriff's office drug-detecting dog killed three weeks ago in a patrol car fire.

The memorial service attracted law enforcement personnel and K-9 officers from nearly every agency in Nevada, and from as far away as San Francisco and Idaho.

Law enforcement officers formed a 2-mile-long, 100-vehicle motorcade that passed through Minden and Gardnerville on the trip from the sheriff's office to the fairgrounds south of Gardnerville.

"It stretched as far back as you could see in the rear-view mirror," said Sgt. Joe Duffy, who is a dog handler for the department and helped organize Jon-Jon's service.

Two-by-two, dogs and their handlers lined up on each side of the entrance to the fairgrounds pavilion, forming an honor guard for Deputy Rick Koontz, Jon-Jon's partner, and his family.

Once inside the pavilion, there was the sound of panting and an occasional rattling leash, but for the most part, the dogs were quiet.

The only exception was when Rick James played bagpipes and bugler Bob Masters performed "Taps," leading to a low chorus of yelps and barks.

James said Jon-Jon's service was the first time he played bagpipes for an animal.

"I am greatly honored to be here," James said before the service. "I was anticipating this and hoping they would contact me. I am glad they did."

Kirk Gillaspey, a Douglas County Search and Rescue volunteer, brought Abby, a 17-month-old German shepherd being trained for tracking, air scenting and evidence search.

"My heart goes out to Deputy Koontz, what he went through and what he'll go through - the silence of the car, no hustle and bustle without Jon-Jon," Gillaspey said.

People lined Highway 395 through Minden and Gardnerville to watch the motorcade which left the sheriff's office around 12:30 p.m. Some onlookers placed their hands over their hearts as the vehicles passed by.

Martha Folin, 61, of Minden, waited for the procession from her wheelchair which she parked on a sidewalk in front of a vacant lot between Second Street and Esmeralda Avenue.

"I just got in my little red truck and drove myself here," Folin said.

Folin, who has hip problems and cancer, brought a little sign to hold up on which she had written "Bless Jon-Jon."

Folin's daughter Sydney works at Carson Valley Kennels where Jon-Jon was groomed.

"When he died, it just broke her heart," Folin said. "She loved him and she told me all these stories about him. I just got so attached.

"He was more than just a dog," she said. "He deserved this."

Warren and Beverly Thayer waited for the motorcade from the front seat of their truck which they parked near Folin.

"He's kind of emotional about animals," Beverly Thayer said of her husband of 50 years. "We thought it would be better to pay our respects here."

Dave Osowski, a sergeant with the University of Nevada, Reno, police department and a Ruhenstroth resident, waited outside the sheriff's office for the motorcade to begin.

He has a K-9 partner in training in Virginia.

"It kind of hits close to home," he said.

Osowski said he came to honor the Douglas County Sheriff's Office.

"These are my cops, too," he said.

Sheriff Ron Pierini told the audience that Jon-Jon was responsible for more than 400 finds of various narcotics.

"He never received a paycheck. He never asked for benefits or special privileges," Pierini said.

"Does one ever know his real impact? That he prevented one person from driving under the influence of drugs? That he stopped one child from the terrible abuse of the drug use lifestyle?" Pierini asked.

Pete Nelson, pastor of Carson Valley United Methodist Church, said since Jon-Jon's death he had been asked how he was going to eulogize a dog and if Jon-Jon went to heaven.

"I said yes," Nelson said. "You eulogize a soul, the same as anyone else."

The sheriff's office honor guard carried Jon-Jon's urn to Koontz's patrol car at the conclusion of the memorial service.

"We commend his remains to Deputy Koontz assured that Jon-Jon is resting in arms that cradle him even more tenderly than Rick's through all eternity," Nelson said.

After the memorial, Koontz said he was overwhelmed by the outpouring of support and more than $15,000 in donations to the department's canine patrol fund.

"Things were awesome," he said. "We're just so touched.

"I held up pretty good. I told myself I was not going to cry, but, of course, I did," Koontz said.

The veteran deputy said he felt Jon-Jon deserved the honor and that he needed closure before considering whether to take another canine partner.

"Out of respect, I wanted to wait for Jon-Jon's service before I started thinking about another dog. I think he deserved it," Koontz said. "I think it's time now to start talking about it."


Donations to the Douglas County Sheriff's Office patrol and drug detection dog program may be made to the DCSO Canine Fund, c/o Douglas County Sheriff's Office, PO Box 218, Minden, 89423, or dropped off at the sheriff's office in the Judicial and Law Enforcement Center, 1625 Eighth St., Minden.


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