SAN DIEGO — San Diego police Sgt. Jess Havin knew every minute mattered when he scooped up his bloodied partner and bolted to the cruiser they've shared for five years.
It took one minute to escape the chaos of the home where two people lay dead and load his partner into the back. It took five more to race to the hospital, lights flashing and siren blaring in the “code 3” of police jargon.
“We don't have a policy where you run a code 3 for an animal,” Havin said. “I don't care. I did it. I'd do it again.”
Havin's partner is Earp, an 8-year-old German shepherd that is one month from retirement. Friday morning, Earp was stabbed in the throat by a man wielding a butcher knife he had used to kill his wife. It was the first time Earp had been ordered to bite anyone. Before Friday, he had only been sent to find drugs or guns or to scare people.
Earp and Havin were part of a tactical team that tried to save Gail Bradley, 50, inside her home in Paradise Hills after she called 911 to report that her husband, Willard Bradley, had a knife and was suicidal.
Willard Bradley, 51, was known as “Trick Tony,” a magician and entertainer who performed at Balboa Park and birthday parties. Two officers shot him to death after he stabbed Earp and turned on them.
Yesterday, Havin and Earp were recovering from the trauma, and Earp was mending from surgery that saved his life after one of the carotid arteries that carry blood to his brain was sewn shut. The knife had severed it.
Blood was everywhere in the back cage of Havin's car as he called ahead to Earp's veterinarian in Barrio Logan and dispatched another dog handler to grab blood for a transfusion. Havin was trying to keep Earp calm by talking to him. “Auf,” he said repeatedly, a command for the dog to be still.
At first, Dr. Robert Tugend and colleagues at the VCA Main Street Animal Hospital figured Earp was bleeding from the abdomen because that's where blood was pooling. They thought he might have been shot and were preparing for an X-ray to find a bullet – until they spotted the stab wound.
Doctors said Earp had lost so much blood that he would have died if Havin had taken 10 minutes, instead of six, to drive the 8 miles from the home to the hospital.
Earp isn't the first police dog to be injured in San Diego. Dogs were stabbed but survived in 2002 and 2008. Another was hit by a stray bullet in 2000, and an Oceanside police dog plummeted to his death off the Coronado bridge in 2007. At least two San Diego police dogs died in hot patrol cars since 1999.
The Police Department won't decide whether Earp will retire early or return to the force until the end of a mandatory 14-day rest following the attack. Either way, he'll live out his retirement at Haven's home in Alpine.
Police dogs typically retire when they are about 8½ years old because they start becoming less “driven,” Havin said.
“This dog will slide right into it, especially because the last two nights he's been sleeping in the bedroom,” Havin said.
For now, Earp is going from the outdoor kennel at Havin's house to an indoor cage, and he'll have to get used to being a center of attention.
Officer James Stevens checked in on Havin and Earp yesterday and joked, “There are a bunch of dogs outside your car. I think they want an autograph from Earp.”
Havin handed Earp a few biscuits outside the K-9 Unit headquarters on Federal Boulevard as the pair posed for a photographer. Earp, stitches showing on his shaved chest, moved slowly, his eyes watchful and his ears perking up at the sound of gunshots from the nearby police firing range.
Havin said he “was a great dog, a hardworking dog, very obedient,” but he is operating at less than 60 percent at this point in his recovery.
“I'd like to bring him back and work him at least until he's past his true retirement age,” Havin said. “I think he deserves it.”
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