‘Rest in peace, Nike’

Isanti County’s first K-9 officer passes away

Whether he was putting a smile on thousands of kids’ faces during a K-9 demonstration, or in pursuit of a suspect, Isanti County K-9 Nike put his heart and soul into his work.

Nike, a 13-year old Belgian Malinois who joined the Isanti County Sheriff’s Department in 2003 and retired in 2010, passed away peacefully Thursday, Aug. 7.

During his duration with the department, Nike was under the direction of his handler and partner, Isanti County Chief Deputy Chris Caulk. Nike retired from the department in October 2010 after being diagnosed with retina atrophy and was losing his eyesight.

During his service with the department, Nike had over 300 calls for service on suspect and missing children searches; 219 narcotic searches; 3,434 hours in training and work for the county; and performed K-9 demonstrations for over 3,500 students and 2,500 adults at fairs and schools.

Following his retirement, Nike continued to live with Caulk, his wife, Jenni, and their son, Jaeger.

Caulk explained Nike had recently stopped eating, and after bringing him to the veterinarian, they learned he had developed a heart condition where he was not getting enough oxygen, and couldn’t breathe properly.

“We got the official diagnosis from the vet on Aug. 6, and brought him home so we could have one last night together with him as family,” Caulk said. “The next evening, we laid him to rest. Over the last two months, we realized Nike hadn’t been himself, and we feel Nike even accepted the fact he was ready to go. My entire family is heart-broken, but we are cherishing the good times and memories we have with him.”

Marlys Palmer, on behalf of the Isanti County Humane Society, said the entire county can be proud of the work by Nike.

“It was such a privilege and a joy for Chris (Caulk) to have shared so much of Nike with the sheriff’s department, and all of the Isanti County citizens,” Palmer said. “Nike has been the only dog to have brought brownies to the Humane Society’s bake sale, and we would see him at a lot at our functions. Every year, Chris would bring Nike to our Blessing of the Animals. The way Chris would share Nike has set the standards for relationships between the sheriff’s department, the police department, K-9s, and the people they serve.”

During the nearly eight years Nike was Caulk’s partner, he spent more time with him than his own family.

“I took Nike to work with me every day, and then I also brought him home with me every night,” Caulk said. “I definitely created a bond with him. One of the hardest things I’ve ever done is watch Nike take his last breath.”

Caulk recalls selecting Nike from the Ramsey County kennels in Quamba.

“I had just brought Nike to the car, and kept the window cracked just a few inches,” Caulk said. “A few minutes later, after Jenni and I were done talking with some of the Ramsey County K-9 handlers, we went back to the car, and he was gone. We found him soon thereafter, but for a while we considered changing his name to Houdini because we couldn’t figure out how a 70-pound dog fit through that small of a crack in the window,” Caulk jokingly recalled.

Caulk began a two-month training process with Nike in March 2003. Nike was ready to begin patrol when another K-9 handler accidentally stepped on his leg and broke his leg during a training session. Nike officially began patrol later that summer.

“I think it took a while for us as a sheriff’s department and a police force to get used to the culture of a K-9 officer,” Caulk said. “Calls were somewhat slow at first, but then after a while things began to pick up, and we went non-stop until his retirement. Sheriff Mike Ammend also felt it was important to have Nike in the community, so we did a lot of K-9 demonstrations in the schools and at fairs, and we often took him for visits in the senior homes. Everywhere we went, folks always asked how Nike was doing. He became the entire county’s K-9 officer — not just the sheriff’s department K-9 officer.”

One of the highlight’s of Nike’s career was apprehending an armed suspect at Cambridge Medical Center.

“There was a guy inside the Cambridge Medical Center holding a gun in his hands,” Caulk said. “He eventually put the gun down, but was still standing close to it. I went to the car and told Nike to ‘go get him.’ Nike got him, and took him to the ground. We had trained for moments like this, but I just couldn’t believe it worked. Nike was able to diffuse a potentially lethal situation for us. Afterward, the guy thanked us for using Nike, and allowing him to live another day. He said he had intended on killing himself that day.”

Caulk is also proud of the numerous trophies and medals he and Nike won at K-9 competitions across Minnesota and Wisconsin.

“These competitions were always fun events that my entire family attended with me,” Caulk said. “The law enforcement community is extremely close, but K-9 officers are also a close-knit family. Since Nike’s passing, I’ve heard from some of the K-9 handlers Nike and I trained with. We always look out for each other.”

The community support for Nike was evident.

“Whenever we needed something for Nike, the community was always there for us,” Caulk said. “We appreciate the countless donations we received by our local businesses, organizations and private individuals. Nike was really everyone’s dog.”

Palmer said many are saddened by the loss of Nike.

“It’s a sad day, but as time goes on we’ll remember his alert ears and long nose, and take joy in all the work Nike did,” Palmer said. “We were so proud of the work Nike and Chris (Caulk) did together. And anything the Humane Society could do for Nike was so small compared to what he did for us. He will be missed.”

Nike, the family pet

Caulk said bringing Nike into his family was an easy transition since Nike came from a family in New Brighton. He explained the family decided to give Nike up after realizing they didn’t have enough space for him in their home.

Caulk and Jenni had Nike for about one year before their son Jaeger was born.

“Jaeger has been taking this really hard,” Jenni said. “He loved Nike a lot, and is going to miss him. Losing him is so much harder than we ever thought. Nike was our ‘lover boy’ and I called him ‘momma’s boy.’ When Nike was at home, you’d never believe he was a working police dog. He was dedicated to the sheriff’s office, as well as to our family. I have so many pictures of Jaeger as a little baby rolling on the ground with Nike, and snuggling in bed with him. We are always going to miss him.”

Jenni recalls first laying eyes on Nike.

“Nike was the biggest dog there, and he immediately walked over to me and started licking my hand,” Jenni said. “It was literally love at first sight.”

Caulk said he and Jenni intended on Nike being an outdoor dog, but then changed their minds.

“We were a little apprehensive about the whole idea, and during the first two weeks of having him in our home we had our ups and downs, but then we just fell in love with him,” Caulk said. “He was a member of our family, and we will always love him. We know he’s in a better place and looking down on us.”

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