A good cop--maybe the best ever to walk on four paws--was retired from the Los Angeles Police Department Friday with appropriate pomp and ceremony--plus a few moments for him to relax and play his favorite game, which is chasing a rubber ball.
Duke, a 6-year-old German shepherd, has been a member of the department's canine unit since 1981, and during his career, he's been stabbed, punched, kicked, choked and shot at.
But it was not injury or stress that forced the department to place him on the retired list at the peak of his career. It was the fact that Duke is slowly going blind.
Officer Michael Long, Duke's partner and handler since the handsome black-and-tan dog joined the unit, tried to sound properly stoical when he explained that he's suffering from an irreversible disease called progressive retinal atrophy.
"He's still got the desire to work," Long said, "it's just that he's gradually going blind."
Long said the veterinarian who discovered the disease during an examination last July predicted that his partner will be totally blind by the end of the year.
Assistant Police Chief Robert Vernon presided over Duke's retirement ceremony Friday afternoon in the roll-call room of Central Station--and, for the benefit of photographers, gladly let the retiree give him a big wet kiss on the cheek, a liberty seldom if ever permitted by a high-ranking officer of the deparment.
In recounting Duke's record, Vernon called him "the most successful canine" in the history of California.
"This dog, Duke, has been instrumental in over 370 felony arrests . . . at a manpower saving of over 26,000 hours, and that amounts to a saving of nearly a half million dollars," Vernon said.
Duke stood modestly at his partner's side as the chief praised him.
Among other bad guys Duke sniffed out (and usually scared into surrendering without a fight) were 4 murderers--the last one captured during a chase on Halloween night--6 rapists, 65 robbers, 214 burglars, 66 car thieves, 7 suspects accused of assaulting police officers, 3 hit-and-run drivers and 2 narcotics suspects.
For his work, Duke received 48 official commendations, not to mention the specially designed certificate of retirement presented by Vernon during the ceremony.
Duke seemed unimpressed by the chief's praise or the certificate. But he did perk up when someone brought a big rubber ball into the room and tossed it out for Duke to retrieve. Despite his failing eye-sight, he caught it on the bounce and brought it back to his master with his tail wagging happily. Long explained that Duke's biggest thrill in life is "a pat on the back" after catching a crook, and a chance to play bring-back-the-ball.
Long himself will keep his departmental unit designation of K-9-4 when his new partner, another German shepherd named Yeager, replaces Duke in about a month. But Duke's official department badge, K920, will be permanently retired with the dog.
As he has has since he joined the department at the age of 13 months, Duke will continue to live in a kennel in the backyard of Long's home in LaVerne. Long, with Duke, will begin a monthlong vacation today.
When Long returns to work, his new partner will have completed his training. And in off-duty hours, Yeager will share quarters with Duke.
Long said he likes Yeager--the dog is named after test pilot Chuck Yeager--just fine but made it clear that for him, Duke will always be the top dog.