CHEROKEE — Two former Cherokee County Sheriff’s K-9s, Marco and Rico, have retired and are living with their past partners.
Marco served the agency for nine years and was handled by Sgt. Matt Azaroff. Azaroff started with the Sheriff’s Office in 1998 and was assigned to the K-9 Unit in March 2003. Azaroff said Marco has done well transitioning into retirement.
“He still wants to go to work every day,” Azaroff said. “He still remains active and loves to fetch and run.”
Rico served for seven years and was handled by Deputy Darin Downey. Downey started at the Sheriff’s Office in 2002 and has worked in the K-9 Unit since Aug. 2005.
“I thought it would be rough, but (Rico) has handled it pretty good,” Downey said. “Always upbeat and excited to see me, loves attention from the family.”
Marco, 11, and Rico, 9, retired because of age. Azaroff said the most meaningful thing he and Marco did was connecting with children at K-9 demonstrations.
“Being able to talk to them and teach them about what we do and know that they appreciate us, is without doubt meaningful,” Azaroff said.
During the time he worked with Marco, Azaroff said they conducted searches for explosives and fleeing criminals, and even provided preventative searches for two presidents and a vice president.
“He was my partner for nine-and-a-half years,” Azaroff said. “It is a little tough sometimes to not have him with me, but I know it is the best thing for him to relax and not continue to work at his age like the job demands.”
Downey said when he comes home and sees Rico jumping and barking, it brings him joy to remember what they have been through as a team and the things they’ve been able to see over the years.
“Rico was the only thing in this world that I know, when it comes down to needing someone, I could count on him no matter what,” Downey said. “I know he would sacrifice himself to protect me without questions or fear.”
The Sheriff’s Office used seized drug funds to purchase two K-9s to replace Marco and Rico after their retirement. In late 2012, K-9 Maxim joined the force as Azaroff’s new partner and, earlier this year, K-9 Dixon was released from training and started to work fulltime as Downey’s new partner. Dixon is named in memory of Collins Dixon, a Teasley Middle School seventh-grader who died in January of 2012 after a 10-month battle with cancer.
Both Azaroff and Downey said starting with a new K-9 after already previously working with another is a big transition. They said it’s a process to understand a new K-9 partner and build a bond of trust, and that it takes several years to know exactly. So far, Azaroff said he and his new K-9 have conducted several sweeps for explosives, tracked and located felons and done many demonstrations at schools and events.
“Max is a great dog,” Azaroff said. “He has a completely different personality than Marco, which makes every day different. I know he will do great things.”
Downey said that Rico doesn’t care for his new K-9 partner Dixon too much. “But who would?” Downey asked. “No one likes being replaced by anyone.”
Downey said since he’s been working with Dixon, they’ve assisted in several drug arrests and tracked and taken burglary suspects into custody.
“Every day I spend with Dixon is becoming more enjoyable,” Downey said. “The personality of him differs from Rico, but it’s unique in its own way. I can see him being more comfortable around me and my family. I think the sky is the limit for us and we will accomplish great things.”
Azaroff and Downey said that the dogs are not Superman, but they are pretty close.