Age and injury, not lawsuits, led to police dog's retirement, police say

Staff writerDecember 1, 2013 

Lakewood police dog Astor was retired in July.


Lakewood police say that for medical reasons they retired one of their K-9s, who is the subject of two lawsuits against the city and his handler.

“The decision to retire Astor was based on a diagnosis of multiple compressed discs in his spine causing pain and lameness in his leg,” said Sgt. Andy Suver, who oversees the department’s K-9 teams. “The only possible medical remedy was costly with a low success rate. The age of the dog was also taken into consideration.”

A generalist police dog usually will serve for six or seven years, but they can have shorter or longer careers, depending on factors such as their overall health, Suver said. Astor joined the department in July 2006, and his last day of work was July 15.

He has been adopted by his former handler, officer James Syler, and the handler’s 7-year-old daughter.

In one of the lawsuits against Syler and the city, plaintiff Noel Saldana alleges Astor attacked him in June 2010, even though he complied when Syler told him to drop to the ground as he walked along a sidewalk.

Saldana’s wife, also a plaintiff in the suit, had called 911 to say her husband would not leave their home when she told him to.

The other lawsuit, brought by Charles Boyles, claims the dog attacked him without provocation as he was walking about 2:40 a.m. May 7, 2012, in a vacant field. Astor and officers were looking for a different person who was suspected of a crime.

Both men say they’ve suffered lasting injuries from the dog’s attack.

Lakewood has declined to comment on the litigation, which is pending in U.S. District Court.

Astor was the first K-9 team to work with Pierce County Metro SWAT, and once was awarded a Medal of Merit from the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department for finding and apprehending a homicide suspect who had been eluding police and living in a wooded area of Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Suver said.

Syler has a new partner. He has trained with Koda, a 3-year-old German shepherd, for about six weeks. The pup, who lives with Syler, passed a Washington state K-9 Certification and is accredited through the Washington State Police Canine Association.

As for Koda’s predecessor, he’s doing all right.

“Astor has settled into retirement, though he still misses going to work,” Suver said.

Alexis Krell: 253-597-8268

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