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​The suspect lay on his belly under a moonless midnight sky. He had just shot and wounded a drug dealer over a bag of marijuana and fled into the dense woods behind a parking lot.

He had long ago stopped taking his medicine for manic depression diagnosed in prison, where he did time for burglary, weapons violations, and an escape. The suspect was high on amphetamines, high beyond all reason. He was a bear of a man, about 250 pounds. With two hands he braced his .45 caliber semiautomatic handgun in front of him. There was a box of ammunition by his side. He was ready to meet his pursuers.

He heard footsteps in the underbrush; then a flashlight beam exposed him. The suspect squinted into the light. He could make out the forms of two police officers. One held a shotgun at his hip. Less than six feet separated the suspect from the law. The officers shouted, “Drop your weapon! Drop your weapon!” before a German Shepherd K-9 charged out of the dark to make the collar. The startled suspect fired. The dog took it square in the chest and went down hard. The police returned fire. Chaos: shouting, shooting, yelping, the flashlight beam careening around the woods.

The K-9 was badly hurt. Some dogs know when to quit—but not this one. He rallied to his feet for another charge at the suspect. He bounded into the crossfire. A blast from the police shotgun, “friendly fire,” cut the legs from under him and sent the K-9 sprawling a second time. The suspect was a large target. His big body jerked as he was hit again and again. Still he lumbered toward the officers, shooting wildly. To the police it seemed like forever before he toppled forward and landed at their feet.

It was over. Neither officer was hurt. The suspect, in critical condition, would live. The dog struggled to his handler’s side, trailing blood. The officer said later that his dog made it into a near-perfect heel position before he collapsed.

Shortly after midnight on that October night in 2004, Police Officer Tim Nading, of the Des Moines Police Department, raced into the animal emergency clinic. His 2-year-old K-9, Reno, was bleeding to death. He had sustained nine separate wounds to the chest and legs. It was dire, but one of Reno’s vets said, “Reno’s got drive and spirit. If he makes it back to active duty, it wouldn’t surprise me.”

And that’s exactly what happened. With tender loving care administered by Nading and his family, and a long rehab program, Reno returned to active duty and continued his distinguished career. He died in Nading’s arms, at age 11. In the end it was cancer, not a maniac’s bullets, that stilled Reno’s mighty heart.
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This article was originally published in AKC Family Dog magazine. Subscribe today ($12.95 for 6 issues, including digital edition) to get expert tips on training, behavior, health, nutrition, and grooming, and read incredible stories of dogs and their people.
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