St. Croix County law enforcement officials are mourning the loss of a key member while simultaneously working to fill the void.
The St. Croix County Sheriff's Office announced March 23 that Roky, the K-9 partner of deputy Dustin Geisness, died from complications stemming from a twisted intestine. The German shepherd was 4 years old.
Sheriff Scott Knudson, a former K-9 handler, said dogs of Roky's size and breed are more susceptible to the intestinal complication.
Still, he said "it was a shock when it happened."
The bond formed between handlers and police dogs is strong, the sheriff said. That family-like relationship extends beyond the handler and the dog to the larger agency, he said.
"We value our four-legged partners and K-9 Roky will surely be missed," Knudson said.
Meanwhile, the transition to replace Roky is underway.
The department was already busy replacing a dog after deputy Josh Stenseth's K-9 partner Dex - the 2016 national police dog champion - retired last year. Now he and Geisness are both in the St. Paul K-9 training program with two new dogs.
Geisness has been paired up with a 15-month-old German shepherd-Belgian Malinois mix that arrived in late March.
Knudson said a K-9 fund, made possible by "generous donations," put the department "in a position to replace Roky."
Geisness, who hit the streets last year with Roky, is being allowed to pick up with the St. Paul training program in midstream since he just went through the program last year, Knudson explained.
Deputy John Shilts Jr. and his Dutch shepherd Garza represent St. Croix County's lone K-9 until the other two hit the streets. Knudson said the agency is getting help from Hudson police and other agencies as needed until the sheriff's department's K-9 unit is back at full strength.