Wilson K-9 Rhett transitions from work to play in retirement

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Wilson Senior Police Officer Jeffrey A. Boykin plays with K-9 Rhett Thursday at Barton College. Rhett retired from the department in May after he started having problems with his hips. Brie Handgraaf | Times
Wilson Senior Police Officer Jeffrey A. Boykin plays with K-9 Rhett Thursday at Barton College. Rhett retired from the department in May after he started having problems with his hips. Brie Handgraaf | Times

Rhett may have lost a step or two, but his drive for police work is still as strong as when he his paw first touched pavement as a Wilson police K-9 in 2011.

The 10-year-old German shepherd officially transitioned to life as a pet with the July approval of a sale to his handler Senior Police Officer Jeffrey A. Boykin, but the K-9 stopped working back in May after the veteran cop noticed a slow decline in the working dog’s health.

“About a year ago, I started speaking with my immediate supervisor about health issues I was seeing with his hips, which is really common in German shepherds,” Boykin said. “He needs to protect me and other officers and I need to be certain he’ll do that, but when I wasn’t, I ultimately knew it was time for him to retire.”

Rhett was Boykin’s first K-9 partner and the duo underwent a 14-week training through the department in 2010 before being assigned to the patrol division.

“Our function with the police dogs is not just busts. We also do community demonstrations in the schools and things like that,” Boykin said. “I think he was a successful dog.”

With more than 1,5000 deployments throughout his seven-year career with Wilson police, Rhett was never seriously injured and assisted his human counterparts in a variety of scenarios.

“One case that really sticks out tome that I was proud of was a home invasion where a weapon was involved,” Boykin recalled. “The suspects were apprehended before we could get to the scene, but they’d run from the vehicle and hadn’t recovered the weapon. There was a large area and we did an evidence search, but Rhett found the weapon, and that was pretty early on in the career.”

In addition to a fulfilling a regular shift schedule, K-9s and handlers undergo daily training as well as two days of dedicated training a month.

“The constant training is hard because we really work in some capacity every day, but it is what you sign up for and you know that going in,” Boykin said. “The hardest thing for me was knowing that you’re going to start something that never ends well because you know the dog is going to eventually have health issues and die. But you do it again because it feels like what you’re supposed to be doing.”

As such, Boykin is in the process of completing training with an 18-month-old German shepherd named Argo. Later this month, Argo and another K-9 will complete training and bring the department back to five K-9s on duty between patrol and a specialized unit.

“I like knowing we really helped in a case,” Boykin said. “For example, we had a breaking and entering call where we tracked someone who had fled the scene before police arrived and we made an arrest. I’m not saying a arrest couldn’t have been made without us, but it would have been harder had the dog not taken us where we needed to go.”

Because the department has so much invested in the K-9s, the handlers have to invest as well.

“I don’t do this just for me. I feel like the department has given me some great opportunities and put a lot into me and I enjoy what I’m doing,” Boykin said. “I wouldn’t ever compare dogs because you can’t and no two dogs are the same, but I felt like I owed it to myself to do it again with more knowledge and experience.”

During his career, Rhett achieved national certification for patrol and narcotics detection. Boykin said it has been a bit of an adjustment period for Rhett since retiring.

“He was happy to get in the car this morning, but was a bit confused that we weren’t getting to work,” he said. “I’m letting him enjoy just being a dog because he’s never just been a dog before. I don’t know if he enjoys that as much as working, though.”

As for Argo and Rhett, the two are getting along fine and Boykin appreciates having a K-9 counterpart.

“As officers, we’re all a bit nervous sometimes in our jobs because we have families and we want to be safe, but I had peace of mind knowing I had someone with me all the time,” Boykin said of Rhett. “For seven years, he rode in the car with me and I knew he truly loved his job and loved to work. I knew he had my back and I had his.”