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One by one they came to say goodbye and scratch his head.
The morning was brutally cold in South Portland, Maine, but none of the two dozen police officers, firefighters and EMT technicians from across the state who gathered around Shane Stephenson's SUV paid much attention to the temperature.
"It was pretty tough trying to hold back the tears," recalls Stephenson, a K-9 officer with the town's police department, of the send-off held for veteran police dog Sultan, shortly before he drove the 13-year-old German Shepherd to a local vet to be euthanized.
"Everyone just wanted to pet him one last time and say their farewells. He kind of sensed it was his final moments and just stared up at everybody with sad eyes and licked their hands."
Sultan made a name for himself working with the Yarmouth Police Department for nearly ten years. With his tracking, drug detection and recovery skills, he answered over a 1,000 calls, capturing dozens of suspects and over a 100 pounds of narcotics.
"The department often loaned him out to other agencies around the state," says Stephenson. "He had a track record and people knew when they called him, he was going to produce."
Sultan's longtime trainer and partner gave the dog to Stephenson in 2012 and he lived with the young officer and his family. "I actually got to work with him one time before he retired," he recalls. "It was really amazing. He tracked down several burglary suspects and also recovered the stolen property."
In recent months, Sultan's health had begun to fail after having several seizures that left the once-powerful dog barely able to stand. Stephenson knew what he needed to do and telephoned some officers at Sultan's old department to tell them the sad news.
"They said they wanted to come say goodbye," he says. "They wanted him to have a good send off."
A few days later on Feb. 13, Stephenson pulled into a snowy parking lot with Sultan in the back of his SUV. Law enforcement personnel and emergency personnel from several state agencies were waiting for him.
"I found out he was loved by a lot of people," says Stephenson, who later drove Sultan down the road to a local vet surrounded by cruisers with their lights flashing. And as he carried the weary old dog inside the clinic, the officers stood shoulder to shoulder, saluting their former colleague.
"He was just a good, friendly dog," says Stephenson, "who had a big impact on the community."
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Featured image via Portland Press Herald