Photo of police dog at slain Bardstown officer's funeral draws worldwide reaction

gkocher1@herald-leader.comJune 4, 2013 

Many eyes filled with tears have now seen the photo taken by freelance photographer Jonathan Palmer of the police dog, Figo, extending his paw onto the casket of his fallen partner, Bardstown Officer Jason Ellis.

Since it was first published on Kentucky.com Thursday and on the front page of the Herald-Leader Friday morning, the photo has gone viral across the web.

NBC's Today show displayed the photo on its Monday morning broadcast. Co-host Willie Geist, filling in for Matt Lauer, called it "an incredible photograph" and news anchor Natalie Morales said Figo "is so sweet. It looks like he's grieving there."

The photo could also be seen on The Huffington Post, websites for The New York Daily News and Great Britain's Daily Mail newspaper, and many other news outlets around the world. The photo's spread on the web was fueled by sharing and commenting on social media sites, including Facebook, Reddit and Twitter.

"It really is a testament to the power of photojournalism," Palmer said in an interview Tuesday. "If you make an image that has a strong moment and a story-telling aspect, people will respond to that."

Palmer said he wants people to understand that this is still an ongoing investigation "and hopefully the best thing that could come out of this was some closure in the case."

Figo and Ellis worked together to sniff out drugs in Bardstown. In the early morning hours of May 25, as Ellis was driving home, he was shot by an unknown assailant at an exit off the Blue Grass Parkway. Ellis, 33, was shot multiple times with a shotgun, and investigators believe he was ambushed. Figo was not in the car at the time of the shooting.

Palmer, 34, of Lexington took the photo Thursday afternoon at High View Cemetery in Chaplin, the rural Nelson County community where Ellis was buried.

"I walked around to where some of the bagpipers were, and made my way down to the edge of a tobacco field adjacent to the cemetery, and took a position ... where I could see some of the officers giving their last respects," Palmer said.

"I had no idea the dog was going to react the way he did," Palmer said. "The first thought that went through my mind was to make sure the photo was composed correctly. But I did understand there was a moment there where people would understand that the dog and his partner had a bond."

As a freelancer, Palmer holds the licensing rights for the photo. But he said any income he makes in licensing fees will be donated to a local animal-related charity.

Bardstown Mayor Bill Sheckles announced last week that Figo would be retired and would spend the rest of his days with the family of Officer Ellis. Survivors include his wife, Amy, and two sons, Hunter and Parker.

Greg Kocher: (859) 231-3305. Twitter: @HLpublicsafety

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