K-9 Axel, who after retirement in January became a pet to his handler, Off. Nick Roman, had to be put to sleep last week due to a rare and untreatable health condition.
By Ronni Newton
Off. Nick Roman had a special bond with his long-time partner, Axel, and when he came home from work one day about two weeks ago, Roman knew something wasn’t right with his German Shepherd.
“He was having trouble breathing,” Roman said, and was leaning to one side.
A check-up at the local veterinarian and blood tests didn’t reveal any problems, so Roman brought Axel home. His breathing became more labored.
A second trip to the vet revealed low oxygen levels, which required a cardiologist, so Roman brought Axel to see a specialist at Tufts. Due to COVID-19, Roman had to wait in the parking lot.
The veterinarian from Tufts said Axel was stable, but they kept him for more testing overnight, and since Roman wasn’t even able to go into the building, he went home. The next day, he got the news that an echocardiogram had revealed a large mass inside Axel’s heart.
“There was nothing we could do,” Roman said. Chemotherapy wasn’t an option, nor was surgery. Shrinking it would likely result in blood clots, he said, and would at most have given Axel a few more weeks of life.
When Axel retired this winter, Roman hoped they would have several more years together.
“You always worry about Shepherd hips, but his were perfect,” Roman said. “It was his huge heart. He was such a sweetheart.”
Roman went back to Tufts the next day to say goodbye to his partner. Just before 3 p.m. on April 25, Roman and his family were permitted inside the building for the dog’s final, peaceful moments.
Other West Hartford Police Department officers wanted to be there to pay their respects and give a final salute, but due to COVID-19 protocols were not able to attend.
K-9 Axel, who retired from the West Hartford Police Department in early January, served as Roman’s partner for 8½ years. The 10½-year-old black and tan German Shepherd, who was born in the Czech Republic, then became the full-time pet of Roman’s family, and he enjoyed a life full of treats, playtime with his doggie sibling in the backyard, and lots of belly rubs.
Roman shared a recent video of his wife giving Axel his morning vitamins, the dog making soft whining noises as he leaned in for a hug and scratches behind the ears. Throughout his career, Axel never had a problem transitioning between work time – where he was intensely and fiercely focused – and home time, where Roman said he was always a “big baby,” rolling over on his back for belly rubs.
“You’d put on that leash, and it’s like a light switch,” Roman said previously. “I didn’t even need to tell him to do his job.”
Roman said there were countless calls where Axel kept him safe, “and times I’ll never even know about. … He’s been an amazing dog. … He’s served the police department well and I couldn’t have asked for a better partner,” he said at a West Hartford Town Council Public Safety meeting in March, where the partners received a proclamation.
Lt. Thomas Lazure, who heads the West Hartford Police Department’s K-9 unit, noted that through Axel’s storied career he helped arrest countless criminals and seize guns and narcotics. K-9 teams are regional resources that provide mutual aid to other departments, and the list below are just some of the highlights of Axel’s work in West Hartford and elsewhere:
- In 2013, one of Axel’s first apprehensions was in the Town of Simsbury where a suspect displayed a firearm and fled. Axel located said individual in a tree where he was taken into custody.
- Also in 2013, there was a shots fired incident in West Hartford where a suspect fled the scene with a gun in his hand. The suspect tried carjacking someone at a nearby business but fled the area. K-9 Axel was deployed and it was discovered that the suspect broke into 3 different homes and ended up stashing the gun. K-9 Axel ended up locating the suspect inside one of the homes where he was taken into custody.
- K-9 Axel assisted West Hartford officers in a drug search of a vehicle where the suspect would not consent. Axel immediately alerted to the odor of narcotics on the vehicle which was searched and heroin was recovered. Further investigation revealed a drug house in town that was subsequently taken down. Over $13,000 dollars in narcotics and $10,000 dollars in cash was seized.
- In 2017, using just a small piece of clothing, K-9 Axel located a shoplifting suspect who fled from officers.
- Most recently in July of 2020, K-9 Axel was dispatched to a local business in West Hartford for a possible burglary. K-9 Axel was deployed inside and located the suspect who tried fleeing from Axel. K-9 Axel took the suspect into custody as he was trying to escape from the business by climbing up into the ceiling.
- K-9 Axel has located multiple car burglars over the months including some who fled from stolen vehicles. K-9 Axel went through a few week period where West Hartford residents were getting their vehicles burglarized and stolen on a nightly basis. Throughout that few week period, over 11 suspects were taken into custody as a result of K-9 Axel either locating the suspects or flushing them out to perimeter units during a track.
- K-9 Axel’s last notable moment was this past November where he was dispatched to an address in West Hartford for a man who was wanted on numerous domestic violence charges. The suspect was also wanted for violation of a protective order and it was believed he may be hiding inside of the victim’s home. K-9 Axel was deployed and indicated that a suspect was inside of the attic. The lights to the attic were intentionally disabled but none the less, K-9 Axel went inside. Hiding inside of the attic was the suspect who began fighting with Axel and was immediately taken into custody.
- K-9 Axel was also involved in multiple multi-town search and seizure warrants executed by the DEA, FBI and local narcotics Detectives. Suspects were arrested and narcotics/cash were seized.
Lazure said there were countless other calls in West Hartford and throughout the region where Axel served the public and protected Roman. The two have always had an incredible bond, he said.
The West Hartford Police Department erected a memorial to K-9 Axel on Wednesday in the parking lot on Raymond Road. Roman’s former SUV, with Axel’s name still on the door, sits alone in the lot, with a photo of Axel in the window and an RIP sign marking the date.
“This memorial is for him, to honor him for his career,” Roman said.
“He deserves to be honored for his whole life, working for us.”
Axel’s service to the public will continue, because Tufts will be performing an autopsy to find out more about the rare condition that cut his life short. “He’s a service dog, so if they could somehow learn from this, maybe they can help someone else,” Roman said.
The West Hartford Police Department did have some happy K-9-related news to share on Wednesday.
Just as Roman was learning about Axel’s condition, the department was finalizing the selection of Off. Tim Camerl as the newest K-9 handler following an extensive process that included interviews, agility tests, and an oral board exam.
Lt. Tom Lazure, who heads the K-9 unit, said Camerl, who is a member of the SWAT team, is a great choice, and just started training last week. He’s currently paired with a 1-year-old German Shepherd from Europe for the training, but the dog is yet to be finalized as Camerl’s partner.
“It’s a 16-week K-9 class in patrol and narcotics, with other dogs and police departments from up and down the east coast,” Lazure said. The training is taking place through Black Rock Kennels in Naugutuck, and includes a range of exposure to different situations including in New York City and at the beach.
The West Hartford Department has two other K-9 teams – Off. Brian Delgrande and Lotti and Off. Andrew Teeter and Islay – who became partners in 2019.
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