ROCKINGHAM — Sgt. Jeff Cagle lost a four-legged family member this week — the K-9 partner he’s worked with for more than a decade.
Falco, a 13-year-old Czech shepherd who worked with the Richmond County Sheriff Office K-9 unit, passed away Wednesday from cancer.
Cagle, Falco’s handler and partner, shares the same May 4 birthday with his canine. When Cagle and Falco began training together in 2003 with Beck’s K-9 in Wilmington, it was a perfect match.
Falco was a jack-of-all-trades kind of K-9 who worked in patrol and drug enforcement and protected the deputies he served alongside.
“He was a multi-purpose canine,” said Cagle. “He did it all very well.”
Falco always rode with his partner, and Cagle said when that car moved, Falco was in it. They went everywhere together, Cagle added.
“He would give his life for me, and I felt the same way,” Cagle said. “I always wanted to make sure he was OK.”
Through a keen sense of smell, Falco could track subjects and articles more than 3 miles away across highways and through residential neighborhoods.
“We got a call on County Home Road where a 3-year-old had gotten out of the yard and was gone for an hour,” said Capt. Buddy Miller, Cagle’s night captain when he and Falco were partners. “We took Falco and tracked that little girl a mile from her home. She was right in front of an embankment that she would have fallen into. Falco saved her life.”
Miller and Cagle recalled another of Falco’s triumphs. When someone robbed a woman at Bojangles’, Falco tracked the suspect across the street to Richmond Memorial Park where the man was attempting to hide in the small pond on the property.
“Falco was looking right at him,” said Miller.
Falco used air-scent tracking and detected broken vegetation such as grass that’s been pressed down by a shoe to run down suspects. But humans weren’t the only thing Falco could sniff out. He knew the command to search for weapons. When a weapon’s been fired, it still has human scent on it, said Cagle.
Falco was used by the sheriff’s office as a drug-detecting K-9 as well.
“We stopped a car that we thought had drugs in it,” Miller said. “We put Falco in the car, but he wouldn’t do anything. So we sent him around the outside of the car, and he kept stopping at the front of the car. He kept looking at the headlights and back at us. We found the dope behind the headlights. He was smarter than we were.”
Both Cagle and Miller said Falco could be aggressive and has sent his share to the hospital, but he was very kind and gentle as well.
“I thank the Richmond County Sheriff’s Department for giving me the opportunity to be a K-9 handler,” Cagle said. “If it wasn’t for that, I wouldn’t have been able to meet Falco. And for that I’m grateful. I was lucky to be his partner.”
Reach reporter Matt Harrelson at 910-817-2674.