The residents of Brazil recently lost one of its best crime fighters.
Retired Brazil City Police Department K-9 Officer Hunter died Feb. 4. She was partner and friend of her former handler, Patrolman Todd Stemm.
"I really understand what people mean about the saying 'man's best friend,'" Stemm recently told The Brazil Times. "I had Hunter as a part of my life longer than I have known my wife and had my children. She was part of our family."
During the summer of 1998, Stemm experienced a lot of exciting firsts in his life. He was selected to become the police department's new canine handler, took his first airplane trip to Texas and was able to select his new partner.
There is a well-known special "bonding process" between a K-9 handler and his dog. Stemm said he had heard others talk about it and understood the process was part of the job, but he admitted he was not able to mentally prepare for how fast and strong it happens.
Although there were many dogs to choose from, a 2-year-old female German Shepherd caught his eye.
"I worked with several dogs at the school before settling on Hunter," he said. "She was the only dog that completed the tasks given."
A year-and-a-half into their partnership, Stemm and Hunter attended a state workshop provided by a national K-9 unit training organization.
"I realized that Hunter and I were not reaching our full potential as a team," Stemm said about the two attending further classes, including one in Bedford, Ind. "After attending Bedford Police Department Officer Mike Johnson's school, something clicked for us as a team. Hunter became a new dog afterward."
The training paid off.
According to Stemm, approximately two months later the team assisted the Indiana State Police with a traffic stop, during which Hunter's indication led to the discovery of $340,000 in possible illegally obtained cash. Although federal authorities seized the funds, Stemm said the Brazil Police Department received more than $50,000 for assisting the investigation.
Stemm said Hunter was involved in numerous arrests and drug finds and helped successfully recover two missing children in 1999. However, that wasn't the best part of being a K-9 unit.
"Some of the best things we did as a team were the demos or public appearances. From every school in the county to the 4-H Fair, we attempted to use those opportunities to inform people of all ages about the dangers of drugs and the ability of the K-9s to help in the effort to stop the drugs in the county," Stemm said. "Hunter and I also performed several searches for various school cooperations in the surrounding area, including Clay, Vigo, Putnam, Morgan and Greene counties."
Keeping up with their continuous training, Stemm and Hunter -- who specialized in narcotic detection and human tracking -- successfully patrolled the streets of Brazil for six years.
"Everyone quickly grew to love Hunter's gentle spirit, wonderful temperament and trustworthy police work," Stemm said. "She knew the streets of Brazil well and enjoyed the nightly patrols."
Those who were fortunate enough to ride along with the K-9 unit, according to Stemm, could easily tell Hunter knew her way around Brazil.
"If we got within a few blocks of certain houses that had outside dogs, she got ready," Stemm said. "Her ears would perk up and she would put her nose to the glass as we got close. Then she would bark and whine from the back seat of the patrol car as we went by."
Apparently, Hunter was very protective of her partner too.
When Stemm met and started dating his future wife Micah, Hunter was quick to literally squeeze her way in between the two.
"Of course, I was always her second favorite, but it didn't take long for Hunter to learn to trust me," Micah said. "Hunter loved going for car rides and a doggy dish of ice cream from Dairy Queen."
Micah helped take care of Hunter's hygiene.
"I gave her a lot of baths and brushed her teeth, all the things a mom does for their child," She said. "When Todd and I were first married and he would leave for training, I would let Hunter sit in the house -- right beside me -- and keep me company. You could talk to her just like a person. I have no doubt she knew exactly what I was saying."
Due to an impending administration change in 2004, the Brazil Police Department K-9 program was going to be terminated. The outgoing administration decided to offer Stemm an amazing opportunity. Knowing his partner still had a lot of good years left; Stemm purchased Hunter in late 2003.
"I realized that I could not let Hunter go after nearly six years together," he said. "I took her home."
In 2007 and 2008, Hunter became very sick on two occasions in which doctors believed she suffered a stroke each time. Hunter was able to return to a healthy life for a dog her age.
Retirement from the force gave Hunter the opportunity to enjoy life more as a member of the family. Hunter loved to run and play with Ethan, who is now 7. Her playful nature caused the demise of countless tennis balls over the years.
"Ethan loved throwing the ball for Hunter, who was always by his side. It was kind of like she was on guard for him," Micah said, adding the two had a unique friendship. "I specifically remember Ethan sitting in the sand box and he would put a scoop of sand in a toy then a scoop of sand on Hunter's paws."
Although too little to run and play, the family's newest addition, Carsyn Jane, who just turned a year old, developed her own special bond with Hunter.
"Carsyn Jayne just started saying 'doggy' and making little barking sounds," Micah said. "She still goes to the back door and makes those sounds."
According to Stemm, Hunter was still able to run and play fetch as late as last summer.
However, Hunter's active lifestyle quickly deteriorated as age/illness caught up with the loveable dog as winter arrived.
By late January and early February, Hunter was unable to walk on her own and the Stemm family was forced to make a heartbreaking decision.
"Having Hunter put to sleep was a very sad decision I had to make," Stemm said, adding that the family was with her when she died at Dr. Roger's veterinarian office. "And it affected my wife and son personally as well."
The recent loss has hit the Stemm family hard.
"I loved being a K-9 handler every minute that I did the job. To me, it is one of the most rewarding aspects of law enforcement," Stemm said. "(In the future) I would take another dog, but I feel that the situation would have to be perfect because my own personal expectations would be very high for the new dog. Hunter set the standard for which I would judge potential dogs. K-9 units are a super valuable tool for law enforcement. They require a great deal of assistance, time, and patience to succeed. But, if you ever need help finding a lost child or missing person, how could you put a price on that."