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Community rallies to raise $9K so officer can keep retired K-9 partner

Doc the West St. Paul police K-9. Submitted photo / St. Paul Pioneer Press

WEST ST. PAUL, Minn. — Joe Gobely fought back tears as he stepped up to the microphone.

"It's going to be a tough one," the West St. Paul police officer said, K-9 "Doc" by his side. "I'll try my best to get through."

Gobely, Doc's handler, stood before the West St. Paul City Council Monday, Sept. 11, to explain how arthritis and an injured back will force the German shepherd, who is just under 3 years old, into retirement after just a year and a half on the streets. He is the city's only K-9.

"So, Doc here has been my partner for almost two years. He's done a wonderful job," said Gobely, who shook his head and paused to gain his composure.

It wasn't just Doc's retirement that got Gobely emotional.

"Partially why I'm a little choked up are all the people," he said.

When business owners and residents found out Doc, who is under warranty, would be sent back to a dog importer in Florida, they donated $9,000 so that Gobely and his wife, Ashlee, could purchase him and keep him as a pet.

It started Sept. 2 after Xtreme Tree Team, a West St. Paul business, set up a GoFundMe account under the header "Keep Officer 'Doc' Home." They also made the first donation — $500.

As of Thursday afternoon, $9,050 had been donated by 108 people. Any additional donations will go to the city's K-9 fund.

"I'm trying not to break up, darn it," Gobely said Monday night. "But all the support that I had from the community was unbelievable."

Punched by suspect

About six weeks ago, Gobely noticed that Doc was sometimes dragging his rear paws. Medical tests showed a disc extrusion in his back and arthritis in his front and rear shoulders.

Gobely said the back injury could have happened in late July while Doc was chasing a felony suspect in a wooded and hilly area. After they both tumbled down a hill, the suspect repeatedly punched Doc.

Police Chief Bud Shaver said Skadron Animal Hospital and an orthopedic specialist both concluded that Doc cannot continue as a police dog because a "harsh impact" to the back could rupture a disc and cause paralysis.

Meanwhile, arthritis is a common hereditary condition with German Shepherds, Gobely said.

"He's fighting through all of that right now, and he still wants to work everyday that we bring him out," he said. "He's been amazing."

The community has backed the city's K-9 program even before it started in 2006. An $8,000 donation from a White Bear Lake resident paid for the city's first K-9, "Mike."

"We've been getting support and donations from the community to maintain it ever since," Shaver said. "It's really special."

When Mike retired of old age in November 2016, Skadron Animal Hospital of West St. Paul donated the $5,000 needed to buy Doc. In May, the animal hospital raised another $2,000 to equip him with a bullet- and stab-protective vest.

West St. Paul police bought Doc in January 2016 from the same K-9 importer St. Paul police use. The importer will reimburse West St. Paul with a new dog sometime around December, with training and certification beginning next March.

"I will be taking the next dog, as well," Gobely said. "So we'll have a houseload of dogs."