- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 24, 2017

STERLING, Ill. (AP) - The new year always brings plenty of new beginnings, and that is certainly the case for one team at the Sterling Police Department.

On Dec. 31, just before his 12th birthday, police K-9 Marco ended his career with Sterling PD. The Belgian Malinois started his time on the force in March 2005, at almost a year and a half old.

Marco had an extensive career, spending his time as a full-service dog searching for drugs, articles and cadavers, while also tracking and protecting.

Officer Pat Bartel, 46, of Rock Falls, was Marco’s handler for the duration of his service, and now, in his doggie retirement, will be his full-time owner.

A state law that took effect Jan. 1 requires departments to offer handlers the chance to take over ownership of their retiring K-9 partners. If the officer does not want to keep the dog, it can be given to another officer or employee, a no-kill animal shelter, or a nonprofit organization.

Unwanted was never in Marco’s future, though.

“I had spent a lot of time training with him,” Bartel said. “We spent 10 to 12 hours a day together in a car. He was a partner that I could always rely on, and he was always there for me. He’s like a member of the family.

“There was no way I was going to let anyone else take him, put him down or anything like that. I didn’t want to change anything up for him and what he was used to, either.”

Loyalty is not a quality lost on Bartel, who has been on the Sterling force his entire 23-year career, 21 of them with the K-9 unit.

He could not be more excited to have Marco full-time, and his family agrees. Bartel’s two children, Brycen, 15, and Brenyn, 6, love having Marco around.

Marco is a “light switch dog,” Bartel said, meaning that when he’s not working, he’s very social and friendly. He never has to worry about how Marco will react around children or people he doesn’t know.

“He has a tremendous personality, and he has been great to work with,” Bartel said. “He is everything that I expected. I put a lot of work into him to get him to the level he was at, and it was nice to see that pay off.”

Marco still is a very keen worker, but his body was starting to slow down, and hip problems were cropping up.

“His mind and everything else wanted to work, but it was just his body, kind of like us humans, you get to a point and you just can’t do that same things anymore,” Bartel said.

Marco is Bartel’s second K-9 partner. He also adopted his first dog, Kaydo, who retired in 2006 and died about a year and a half later.

As for Marco’s replacement, Bartel says it might be a little while before the department looks into getting another dog.

“Chief (Tim) Morgan and I have discussed it, and right now until we get back at our staffing, we’ll probably (wait),” he said.

Bartel said he’s not quite sure if he’ll continue to work with the K-9 unit.

“It’s just my body is getting a little tired, too. We’ll see. I’ve got a lot of years on it, so it might be time to let somebody else have a shot at it.”

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Source: The (Sterling) Daily Gazette, https://bit.ly/2iugmS1

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Information from: The Daily Gazette, https://www.saukvalley.com

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