John Coffelt and K9 Partner Jack

K9 Jack, longtime Santa Paula crime fighter, passes at 15

April 16, 2014
Santa Paula News

Another name will be added to the April 30 celebration of the Santa Paula Police K9s, but sadly in memoriam: Jack, the boisterous longtime K9 partner to Detective John Coffelt, has passed.

Jack, born December 2, 1999 was 15-years-old when he passed April 3, an American flag draped over his body after his death in tribute to his loyal service.

According to Coffelt, Jack had served the SPPD starting in April 2001 and retired in April 2010, long service for a K9.

“He worked nine years on the street, that’s unheard of for most police dogs,” as was Jack’s age at his demise. 

“All the stress takes a  lot  out of them,” and the average life span of a K9 is seven to eight years old.

Coffelt had something in common with Jack as soon as they were paired: “He was my first dog... I love dogs and I could think of no better thing to do than have a dog as your partner,” and they learned how to be partners together.

“I knew working with the dog was going to be a challenge, but knowing how dedicated they are and faithful they are, I just dreamt of having that experience. And it was absolutely a learning process for both of us,” including that first year when it has to be established that the human partner is the alpha male.

“The dogs don’t want to give that status up, it’s a battle the first year or so... a lot of fun and a lot of work for them to give up that alpha male status. It’s comical at times and you get bloody at times but you don’t take it personal, it’s part of the process.

“But once they finally give it up they will do anything for you, live their lives for you.”

And risk their lives for their human partner: “Jack saved my and another officer’s life,” after they entered a “pitch black dark” house on a call from a teenage girl babysitting her younger brother who was hiding upstairs after a man broke in.

Former Officer Richie Mendez and Coffelt confronted the suspect in the dark who fought back until Jack was put into action.

“Jack hit him with such force the fight went out of him instantly,” and after the officers cuffed the suspect and the lights were turned on they saw he had been armed with a sawed-off shotgun when the dog attacked.

“The suspect told us he was going to kill us... Jack caught what turned out to be a serial rapist,” now serving a life sentence in prison.

Said Coffelt, “I felt good as a handler... Jack saved a fellow officer’s life and my life, in the dark we couldn’t see what he was going for.”

Jack would bite or not, whatever the situation called for.

“If I told him to chase a bad guy he would keep him pinned down and not bite,” which Coffelt said was a reflection of his own personality, a common aspect of handlers and dogs.

“I am not heavy-handed, Jack wasn’t heavy-handed, even our trainer said it’s impossible to teach the dogs,” whose natural instinct is to bite, such restraint.

“Jack had the heart to know ‘he’s given up, wait for my dad to get here and tell him what to do,’ and he’d just lay on top of a suspect. Sometimes I would let him go, he would disappear into the dark and then I’d hear a guy screaming like a girl, ‘don’t bite me!’ but Jack would just be on top of him. He loved that stuff.”

And Jack also loved his public relations duty: “An hour after fighting a bad guy he’d be happy having kids crawl all over him, that’s what was so special about all of our dogs, they’re trained so well they don’t take it personal they think it’s a game.”

And a game to be enjoyed forever... Coffelt said Jack took retirement hard. 

At first, “I would leave the house in regular clothes, he didn’t care but if I put on a uniform he would freak out, get all excited thinking he was going to work,” causing Coffelt to change into his uniform elsewhere. 

But Jack enjoyed his home life, time spent with Coffelt’s wife Delia and 14-year-old son Christian and the other household pets.

“Jack’s hips were going bad, he mostly hung out with the family and would lay at my feet, there was no jealously with the other dogs, he was just a really good dog, very smart and special.”

The K9, a large German Sheppard, was the signal of what kind of a shift he and his human partner had. 

“Delia could tell how busy we were based on Jack’s reaction,” when the partners came home and the dog would prefer to rest awhile before taking part in any other activities. 

Coffelt thanks Bob Gonzales, the former SPPD chief, for allowing him to be a handler, Dave and Debbie Inglis for being “such great trainers, to be a team.”

Coffelt also thanks, “Our K9 veterinarian Dr. Ron Dalzell has been there every single time Jack needed him, up until the end.”

He urges people to support the National Police Dog Foundation in Jack’s memory, an organization that provides medical care for active and retired K9s and even purchases urns for canines that pass.

The loss of Jack has been traumatic: “I didn’t realize how much it was going to hit me until I drove away,” although other K9 officers had told Coffelt “How they felt... it was the worst day of your life, that dog is attached to you every single day-so much more so than a pet-and then he’s gone. There are two sides to K9s the working side and the gentle side.

“I felt comfortable with him, I knew I could trust Jack to be my backup, he was the equivalent of five officers on scene. And he was my friend. 

“For him to live so long,” said Coffelt, “we were blessed... “

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