University of Kentucky police dog to retire after lung cancer diagnosis

jmadden@herald-leader.comFebruary 27, 2014 

  • If you go

    Becka's retirement ceremony

    When: 9:30 a.m. Friday.

    Where: Room 124 in the parking structure at 721 Press Avenue

Becka is a fighter.

The 70-pound black Labrador, a member of the University of Kentucky Police Department's K-9 unit, sniffed out explosives in residence halls and sporting arenas, protected dignitaries and was on call for circumstances when canine reinforcements were needed. But last Saturday was her last day on the job.

Becka, 10, and her partner, UK police Lt. Rob Turner, started the day at about 2 p.m., hours before UK's game against Louisiana State. The duo searched Rupp's lower level, with Becka's nose scouring the bleachers for 30 minutes, a process that has been routine since 2004.

Diagnosed with a rare form of lung cancer late last year, Becka is set for a retirement ceremony Friday after nearly 10 years of service.

"She's really special to us," UK police Chief Joe Monroe said. "I'm somewhat partial to her. She's been here half of my career."

Becka was initially seen for a cough that persisted even with medication, said Michael Putnam, a veterinarian at Richmond Veterinary Clinic. A series of tests determined that she has a mast cell tumor that lies throughout her wind pipe.

"It's a common tumor that I've seen, but I haven't seen it there," he said. There's no estimate on how long Becka has to live, Putnam said. The main goal is to shrink the cancer and keep it from spreading.

Putnam provides free annual care for all police dogs and is charging the police department a discounted price for chemotherapy.

Becka, who will be 11 in May, is one of four dogs in the campus K-9 unit. The unit was started in 2004 after the university was plagued by a rash of bomb threats. Back then, UKPD had to rely on outside agencies to sniff for bombs. The availability of those agencies was the biggest problem, which prompted the department to start its own K-9 unit, Monroe said.

Becka was the department's first dog and participated in a 10-week explosives detection training program with the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives before hitting the streets, Turner said. Turner also went through the handlers program in Virginia.

"She's found shell casings from guns, and she's found a couple of guns on searches as well," said Turner, who has been a campus officer for 12 years.

In their 10-year partnership, Turner and Becka have traveled to Miami and Tampa Bay, Fla., for the NFL's Super Bowl, to Seattle for terrorist threats, and to North Carolina for a PGA Tournament, and they've assisted various Kentucky law enforcement agencies. She has also patrolled before the arrival of politicians.

Turner is not only a partner, but Becka's roommate and friend. He'll be Becka's primary caregiver outside of Putnam after her retirement. Turner will also assume all of Becka's medical expenses after her retirement.

"She goes everywhere with me," he said. "We do a lot of stuff together — hopefully we can continue to do that. After we work, we go to the dog park. Pretty much everywhere except the gym."

Becka doesn't fetch balls or swim. But she loves popcorn. "If you're at the basketball game she'll scope out some popcorn in a hurry," Turner said.

Becka lives comfortably. Toys are spread all over the house, and when she's outside she scratches at the door when she wants to come in. She's a ball of energy when Turner hides doggy treats in his hands — she licks his knuckles. And she's spoiled by Turner and his roommate.

Outside of their second-shift work schedule, Turner gives Becka seven pills a day that help keep her liver healthy and stop stomach ulcers from forming. She visits the vet every other week for chemotherapy, which is painless. She has four more treatments to go.

"Becka has taken this whole disease process, treatment, X-rays, blood work, chemo, visits and driving down to see me every week all in stride," Putnam said. "All she wants is somebody to pet her."

Turner, who has been promoted to lead the K-9 unit, will soon begin the search for Becka's replacement.

The retirement is bittersweet.

"I'm not really looking forward to it, because that marks the end to it all," Turner said. "But she deserves it. She's been there for so long."

Moving forward, Turner hopes to help keep Becka healthy and "give her a good life."

Justin Madden: (859) 231-3197. Twitter: @HLpublicsafety.

Lexington Herald-Leader is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service