When Matt Hickey, a police officer in Marietta, Ohio, retired this week, he assumed he’d be able to take his K-9 partner, Ajax, with him.
“Ajax is a family member, one of my children,” Hickey told local news station WBNS.
Ajax lives at Hickey’s home and the two have spent every day together for the past three years. And Hickey has offered the city $3,500 -- the amount the city has said the dog is worth -- to purchase Ajax.
But Ohio state law is getting in the way. Technically, Ajax is the property of the city of Marietta. The law says that a police dog’s handler can purchase the animal for just $1 if the dog gets too old for K9 duty, or if the dog becomes sick or injured. But if the officer leaves the force while the dog “is still fit for duty,” that officer “forfeits “ the right to directly buy the animal.
“The dog is property of the city of Marietta,” Marietta Law Director Paul Betram III told WBNS. “Because it is personal property, it is treated like a shovel. That's just the way it is.”
Instead, Ajax is set be sold at auction to the highest bidder. Only active and retired officers or K9 trainers will be allowed to bid. That includes Hickey, but he fears that someone will outbid him for his beloved companion.
Hickey hopes to help change Ohio's laws on police dogs. He wants to see state legislation passed that would allow officers "in good standing" to adopt the dogs they've worked with, he told news station WTAP.
"There is a bond between us and it's very special and I would hate to lose my buddy," he said.
Marietta Mayor Joe Matthews told Fox 8 that he wants Ajax and Hickey to be able to stay together, but there’s nothing he can do. He also said Betram is trying to figure out a way to solve the problem.
Local news reports that a community member has set up a GoFundMe account to raise the money for Hickey to buy Ajax, if it comes down to it.
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