The Hamilton Police Service is reeling from the death of one of its members, eight-year-old police service dog Maverick, who died tragically from unexpected medical complications just days before he was set to retire at the home of his handler.
Const. Johnny Sabatini and Maverick had been working together for seven years, after the purebred German Shepherd was brought to the service from the Netherlands in 2008.
“It’s impacting all of us,” Const. Steve Welton said, adding Sabatini and Maverick became companions “right from the start.”
Welton said the 13-year K9 unit veteran was hoping to take ownership of the dog with his family after his retirement this week.
“They literally spent time from the start of [every] day together and when Johnny put on his uniform or started his truck the dog’s tail started wagging and he knew it was time to go to work,” Welton said, adding that the dog passed away Friday from an unspecified life-threatening health condition.
“He was ready to have Maverick come home and unfortunately he suffered a medical issue and a tough decision had to be made.”
Sabatini and Maverick worked on a wide variety of cases together, assisting investigators in homicide investigations, bank robberies, missing persons, firearm and currency detection and with tactical units in dangerous operations.
“If the suspect needed to be apprehended and they had fled from the scene – involving weapons or whether there were serious injuries – we would use the dog in that way,” Welton said.
“If Johnny told Maverick to watch, the dog would watch. And I tell you, the suspects or individuals who were in situations where the dog was watching them — they weren’t moving.”
Welton said the Hamilton police K9 unit is a “very tight group of people” and the death of Maverick is not just a loss for them, but for the entire policing community.
“It’s like losing one of our own members when you lose a dog like this because they become really your friend and your companion,” he said.
“Many, many people, thousands of people … are reaching out to Johnny and our K9 unit on Twitter and just basically sharing their thoughts and condolences for the loss.”
Police will hold a moment of recognition for Maverick, but have not confirmed if a public service will be held.
People are encouraged to share photos and fond memories of Maverick through social media or pass on condolences to Sabatini via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Welton said the show of support was heartwarming and that Sabatini was “overwhelmed by the response.”
The two would often visit young patients at the McMaster Children’s Hospital and Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children together when not on duty.
“Johnny is probably one of the most passionate people when it comes to not only the position in the K9 unit but also towards the dogs — a really caring person,” Welton said.
“Johnny wears his heart on his sleeve and I know that he’s certainly missing his friend.”