(KUTV) A police dog is recovering at home in Cedar City after undergoing surgery for neck injuries sustained while assisting officers in an arrest.
Pajko, a 3-year-old Belgian Malinois, lost function of his legs after a man police were trying apprehend “slammed on top” of the dog, according to court charging documents.
“He’s a fantastic dog,” said Officer Jason Thomas, Pajko’s handler. “He actually worked with the SEAL Team Six.”
Thomas has only been Pajko’s handler for just over a year, but says their bond is strong.
“It’s hard to describe what that bond is between a K-9 handler and that working dog; it’s special,” Thomas said. “We put our lives in their hands.”
Merrill Orlando Rust, 48, is charged with causing injury to a police service dog, a third-degree felony, and other charges including possession of marijuana, drug paraphernalia, possession of a firearm by a restricted person and failure to obey police commands.
Cedar City Police officers were dispatched around 4:30 p.m. Thursday to check on Rust, who was reported to be suicidal. Officers found his car near a water tank on Nichols Canyon Road, located in the foothills east of town.
“While officers were attempting to establish communication with Rust, he fired a single gunshot into the air,” Sgt. Jimmy Roden wrote in a statement about the incident. “Rust then hiked deeper into the foothills east of the water tank.”
Several hours later, as the day grew dark, Rust walked towards police, gun in hand and refused commands to drop the gun and stop, according to police.
“We followed Merrill [Rust] for about 50 yards and he threw the gun in the sage brush and continued walking away from us,” reads the probable cause statement. “Officer Thomas deployed his service dog Pajko, to stop Merrill.”
The court document goes on to say that Pajko did his job and hit Rust in the back, causing him to fall. But that Rust then “turned and slammed on top of Pajko which caused Pajko to disengage due to extreme injury.”
“Pajko yelped,” Officer Thomas recalls. “He wasn’t able to coordinate his legs; he was chewing on his front paws really bad.”
As officers tried to evaluate Pajko’s injuries, Thomas says Rust assaulted the dog again, causing further injury.
Officers took Pajko to Las Vegas for treatment. Doctors found two herniated disks in his neck and operated Saturday. The surgery was successful and Pajko is able to walk again but is currently under heavy sedation to help him recover.
“Right now he’s not guaranteed to come back,” Thomas said of Pajko returning to police service. “We’re extremely hopeful and the surgery was successful but even the veterinarian is still: ‘It could go either way.’”
To help with Pajko’s medical expenses and other costs associated with his recovery, the group Friends of Iron County Police K9 is accepting donations. Here is a link to the group’s Facebook page:https://www.facebook.com/FriendsOfIronCountyK9s