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Stephen J. Lee, Grand Forks Herald , Published May 20 2011

‘He didn’t deserve that’; police dog shot and killed near Bagley, Minn.

GRAND FORKS, N.D. – Sgt. Larry Peterson lost quite a bit more than just a K-9 “unit” when someone shot Copper last week and left his body lying along a country road.

For one thing, the Bagley, Minn., police veteran also lost Sally, his other dog, who was shot and left apparently by the person or persons.

And he had truly invested in Copper for all seven years the “hound/Lab cross” lived with him. He rescued the pup from the city pound when the woman who found it wandering pleaded with him not to let the pound’s “five-day kill” policy kick in.

In 2005, Peterson brought Copper to training by Winnipeg police experts held in Grand Forks so he could serve as Bagley’s K-9 tracking “officer.” Peterson, not the police department, paid for the training.

They were partners ever since, sharing the same squad car.

Right away, Copper produced.

After A & E Produce in rural Bagley was robbed in October 2005, Copper found the robber in the nearby woods within minutes, as well as some of the shotgun shells the man stole, after he shot one of the store owners in the leg, Peterson said. “That was key evidence,” Peterson said, and led to the man’s conviction.

Besides providing for Copper’s training and his board and room, Peterson also paid for a divider to be fabricated to fit across his squad car so Copper could ride in the back seat.

“I didn’t want the taxpayers responsible,” said Peterson, a 13-year veteran of the force. “Often, the department offered to pay for different stuff, but I just declined, thankfully.”

Police Chief Darin Halverson had been the handler for the small department’s previous K-9 officer, which he ran for about eight years, and some citizens raised issues about the need and use of the dog, Halverson said.

His department has three-full time officers and two part-timers, and budgets have been cut in recent years.

So, Peterson’s way of picking up the tab for Copper was the only way the city would have a K-9 unit.

“Larry footed the bill for everything,” Halverson said of Peterson’s arrangement — gift, really — to the city. “But the city actually purchased the dog from Larry for a dollar, so the city technically owned him, so we covered all the liability.”

But it’s obviously not a dollar deal that gives Peterson the feeling of loss.

The bodies of Copper and Sally were found May 10 about five miles north of Peterson’s house, obviously “dumped” there and killed elsewhere, with a small-caliber gun, Peterson said.

The dogs weren’t known for chasing livestock or deer — legal justifications for shooting stray dogs — and Copper, in fact, was expressly trained not to let such distractions take him from his duty, Peterson said. The last they were seen, the two dogs had gotten loose from his property and were a short distance south of his home May 10, Peterson said.

The Clearwater County Sheriff’s Office is investigating the shootings, and there are no suspects yet.

“I’m not having anything to do with it,” Peterson said. “I don’t want my personal feelings to get in the way.”

Copper was a big, rangy dog, 70 to 75 pounds. Sally was a civilian, also seven, a black Lab/basset hound cross he picked up from the local Humane Society in Beltrami, Minn.

“They were the only dogs I had,” he said. “Both were very gentle dogs.”

That meant they no doubt were easy targets for whoever shot them, Peterson said, unable to keep anger out of his voice.

Many people have commiserated with him and offered to help him find another dog.

But his K-9’s tracks would be hard to fill.

Spending every day, at work or off, with Copper, for seven years, has made this a big loss for Peterson.

“All the lost people we looked for, the cases he played a part in, that was a bad way for him to go down,” Peterson said. “He didn’t deserve that.”