Jacqui was a faithful partner. A hard worker. A protector. A best friend.
One minute, the black Labrador retriever was playing a key role in the confiscation of massive quantities of narcotics and the next minute, she was chasing a tennis ball.
And when she retired, Jacqui took on a more important role, fostering a bond between a mother and her newly adopted son.
And suddenly, she was gone.
“I knew this day would come,” said Brea Police Officer Shannon Buckels on the death of her K9 partner turned furry family member, Jacqui. “I knew it was going to hurt, but I hadn’t planned on the emptiness.”
Jacqui was 16 when she died of what was essentially old age, Buckels said.
She had stopped eating and her hips were in such bad shape, she could barely stand without help. Buckels made the agonizing decision that no pet owner wants to make.
Jacqui was put down on March 30, less than a month after her 16th birthday.
The bond between police officers and their K9s is unique in that they work together as partners and then become a family pet when the work day is finished.
Upon retiring from service, K9s become their handler’s full-time pet.
But with Jacqui, the bond went deeper, Buckels said, and telling the story is a way to heal.
“She truly was far more than a work dog or family dog,” the officer said. “She made our lives better in every way.”
Fifteen years ago, the Brea Police Department purchased Jacqui to be Buckels’ narcotics K9.
Their assignment was with the Public and Commercial Narcotics Enforcement Team, called PACNET.
Under the direction of the Department of Justice and then the Department of Homeland Security, the role of PACNET was to sniff out drugs and drug money.
Jacqui and Buckels partnered to do interdiction in airports, train stations, UPS and Federal Express stations and bus stations.
“In California, a lot of the drugs come up from Mexico and get shipped out of California,” Buckels said. “So, the drugs would go outbound and the money was coming in. She could smell the odor of the drugs on the money. I could tell when she was on and starting to hone and how her behavior would change. Her alert was to sit. She was just so excited about it.”
During their three years on the team, Jacqui sniffed out $4.5 million in drug money, and thousands of pounds of drugs, Buckels said.
“For her, work was just a game of hide and seek and she loved to play,” Buckels said. “She was absolutely psycho over tennis balls. I used to throw her ball down a long hallway in the DOJ office, past everyone’s cubicles. She was so excited for that ball that she put her head through the drywall at the end of hall more than once.”
When the three-year assignment was completed, Jacqui retired and was reassigned to Buckels’ house as a full-time pet.
“She would see me going to work every morning and she would be waiting at the door, waiting to go with me,” Buckels said. “I could tell she was not happy being retired.”
Two years went by when Jacqui was called out of retirement to re-join PACNET.
The assignment was temporary, however, and eight years ago, Jacqui was relegated to home duty again.
At about the same time, Buckels brought home her newly adopted son, Roman, who was 4 years old at the time.
Not being fond of children, Jacqui initially growled at Roman, Buckels said.
“The growl didn’t scare him at all,” she said. “He could see in her eyes that she was just a sweet little creature but she was scared of him. He just walked right up to her and those two were just instant best buddies. It made the house fun for him because Jacqui was there. It really helped seal the deal for him.”
Jacqui’s role was changing from being a work dog to being a best friend, Buckels said.
Jacqui and Roman became inseparable.
“She was fun and loving and she would always be there with me and keep me company,” said Roman, who is now 12. “We would throw the tennis ball at home. She would snuggle a lot. She was energetic. She would be very crazy a lot.”
As childhood friends do, Jacqui and Roman also got into their share of mischief, Buckels said.
But the time came when Jacqui began exhibiting signs of old age.
She was laboring just to stand up on her own.
Her sense of smell was no longer as keen as it once was.
Her appetite diminished.
“So I said, ‘Roman it’s time,’” Buckels said.
On the final drive to the vet, Roman sat with Jacqui in the back seat of Buckels’ Jeep and comforted her the entire time.
At the vet’s office, Roman told Jacqui she was the best friend anyone could ever want.
“Roman’s face was the last face she saw when she went to sleep and I know she would not have wanted it any other way,” Buckels said.
Buckels and her son have a space set aside to display Jacqui’s ashes and have a paw print imprinted in clay, with her photo, her collar, and tennis ball displayed alongside.
“We both knew the time was coming, where there would come a day where we were going to have to say goodbye,” Buckels said. “I would give anything in the world to be able to say, ‘let’s go to work’ and see her little ears perk up one more time. She will live in our hearts forever.”