UPDATED Feb. 4:
Retired officer Matt Hickey was able to purchase K9 Ajax for $1.
On February 4, Paul Bertam, law director for the City of Marietta, made a statement that under Ohio Revised Code Section 9.62, the disbanding of the canine unit makes it legal for the city to sell the K9 to the handler for $1.
The sale was made that same day, and by 2:30 p.m., Ajax was on his way home to enjoy his retirement.
Previously, Hickey was given the opportunity to volunteer for an auxiliary unit with Ajax, but due to health issues that led to his retirement, he turned that option down.
“I’m speechless and I’m so very grateful. There’s no way I can thank everybody. I’m so thankful and relieved,” Hickey told NBC4.
The $70,000 that was raised through GoFundMe to go towards the auction of Ajax will be donated to Vested Interest in K9s, a nonprofit dedicated to outfitting police dogs with ballistic vests.
UPDATE Feb. 1:
The town of Marietta, Ohio, has been facing a social-media backlash after a newly retired police officer was denied his request to purchase his K9 partner, Ajax. But in a press conference on Feb. 1, police chief Rodney Hupp stated that city officials have a plan in the works to keep the two together.
Officer Matt Hickey, 57, retired from the Marietta police force in 2016 but wanted to keep Ajax, with whom he's spent every day for the past three years, WBNS reported.
Originally, Hupp told Hickey he could purchase the dog for $3,500. But when Hickey arrived with the money, Hupp rescinded the offer because, he claimed in the press conference, he learned it was not legal due to the fact that Ajax is technically city property. “If I had conducted that sale, it would have been a fifth-degree felony theft in office and I would be wearing an orange jumpsuit right now,” Hupp said.
According to city law, a K9 officer can be sold to his handler for $1 if the dog is no longer able to work due to injury or age. But at only about 6 years old, Ajax has several working years left, according to WBNS.
Because Ajax is public property, city officials claimed he had to be auctioned off to the highest bidder, resulting in outrage from around the country. One of Hickey’s friends set up a GoFundMe account and raised more than $65,000 in only three days.
But now there may be a better solution. At the press conference Hupp stated that the city is looking into the option of reinstating the police department’s auxiliary force, a volunteer reserve unit that helps the police department with public events, and allowing Hickey and Ajax to volunteer as auxiliary officers. That way, the pair would get to stay together at no cost to Hickey.
“Everyone involved in this is pulling out all the stops to take care of [this issue],” Hupp said.
According to Hupp, the city did not report the auxiliary option to the media because it is still being pursued by the city’s legal team to ensure there are no legal issues, like insurance, with the plan.
“Right now… I believe it could work,” said Marietta Law Director Paul Betram III.
Insults between Hupp and Hickey flew during the conference when Hupp accused Hickey of not telling the full truth of the solution they were pursuing to the media. Hickey called Hupp unqualified and a liar. Hupp told Hickey he was willing to move beyond the “bad blood” and welcome him on the auxiliary.
The funds collected through the GoFundMe account that is not needed for Hickey to acquire Ajax will go toward bulletproof vests for K9 officers.
Hupp suggested that individuals angry about how this situation was handled speak to their local representative about having Ohio’s laws changed.
“One of the most effective ways you can deal with the problem is at the lowest grassroots level,” he said. “That way, no city is every placed in this kind of position again and no dog who is cherished by his handler is ever left out in the cold.”