MILTON — Jan. 6 marked the last official day of service for Santa Rosa Sheriff's Office K9 Zurki.
Handler Sgt. Doug Burgett will now have to go to work without his four-legged partner after four years of working together. However, Zurki will continue to live with Burgett.
"It was a real blast having him go with me to work every day," Burgett said. "He was the best partner I ever had."
'HE'S VERY SPECIAL'
A Google image search for "K9 unit" mostly shows German shepherds but Zurki is a Belgian Malinois. The Santa Rosa Sheriff's Office made the transition to the Belgian Malinois for several reasons, according to Public Information Officer Rich Aloy.
"They’re more energetic, more focused," Aloy said. "They’re faster than the German shepherd, more agile."
Though Burgett noted Zurki is large for the breed at 80 pounds, he said departments are switching to the breed due to their 50- to 60-pound weight range, smaller than the shepherd.
"He's … what they call a Belgian gray," Burgett said. "His size is not really indicative of a typical Malinois. He's very rare. They told me when we picked him up from the vendor that he would probably be the first and only gray Mal in my career that I'll ever see. He's very special."
'HIS NOSE NEVER LIES'
Zurki is 5 years old, which may sound young for retirement, according to Aloy.
"What a lot of folks don’t understand is … he’s not like a regular house dog," he said. "They’re constantly being worked, in a car for a long period of time, constantly training, constantly running."
As a dual-trained dog, Zurki served with two purposes: apprehension and searching.
"The greatest thing I loved doing with him was tracking," Burgett said. "He's a very good tracker and could find the bad guy pretty quick. He was really good at searching vehicles as well. He's amazing."
On the job, Burgett trusted his partner completely.
"They always told me in the beginning to trust your dog," Burgett said. "I trust him with everything. His nose never lies. His mannerisms never lie.
'We're in sync to the point where I know exactly what he's thinking and he knows what I'm thinking and what we're doing."
LIFE AT HOME
In retirement, Zurki will stay home when Burgett goes to work but there are still adventures ahead.
"His day today is just going to be lazy playing with toys and swimming in the pool when it gets warmer again," Burgett said. "He gets to hang out and watch TV and get fat while I go to work and put dinner on the table."
On his off days, Burgett wants to keep Zurki happy and active.
"He's a huge dog, about 80 pounds, and has the mentality of a small Jack Russell Terrier so I want to keep him active, take him on long walks," Burgett said. "I’ll throw him in my truck and take him everywhere I go (like) to the river or the dog beach."
Burgett said he keeps Zurki’s badge on the dog’s collar so people know he’s a police dog, but the dog wears no kind of vest or other marker.
"We keep him pretty social," Burgett said. "We use a lot of positive reinforcement with our canines. These canines are very good to people; very sweet to children and families and I want to keep him that way."
THE LIGHTER SIDE
Zurki is undoubtedly the most famous K9 the Santa Rosa Sheriff's Office has had due to a simple selfie Burgett snapped the first day on the road. The picture shows the two in Burgett’s cruiser looking at the camera, Zurki’s paw on his partner’s shoulder and his tongue hanging down.
"My supervisor said put it on Facebook," Burgett said. "Nobody's going to know because it's private anyway. What I didn't know is that when I put it on Facebook everyone else can share it. So everyone else shared it and shared it."
The image of Burgett and Zurki often appears with the caption "We all have that one partner who’s just a tad not right."
The meme appears on multiple websites including pinterest.com, iruntheinternet.com, reddit.com, imgur.com, themetapicture.com, rebrn.com, ebaumsworld.com and realclear.com.
"It went as far as my brother seeing it in Iraqi and Afghanistan," Burgett said. "It's crazy the face he made (and) as far as it went around the world. I'm glad it did. It made a lot of people happy and a lot of people laugh and it showed a lighter side of law enforcement people don't get to see.
"We're real people, too."