Before he joined the Buffalo Police Department's Underwater Recovery Team last year, Officer Craig Lehner worked within its K-9 Unit. Following his death in the Niagara River, questions are now being raised about the fate of his four-legged partner, Shield.
After Buffalo Police officials provided an update on the investigation into Lehner's death Wednesday, Shield was brought into the room by members of the K-9 Unit.
The hope is to soon connect Shield with a new partner.
"What happens is there's an evaluation process that's conducted by the original team that trained the dog," said Police Lieutenant Jeff Rinaldo. "Then a determination is made of where his skill sets sit, and then pairing him with the skill sets of a new handler. If for whatever reason that process wouldn't work, then the dog would be adopted."
Before returning to police work, Shield will need to be re-certified.
"Even though he could probably go and do a drug investigation, none of us could actually testify in court without that re-training or re-certification," explained Lieutenant Sal Losi, who heads the K-9 Unit.
Shield was brought to the search scene after Lehner disappeared during an Underwater Recovery Team training exercise on October 13. Losi explained that Shield knew something was wrong but officers did not commit him to the search. Other K-9 dogs were, though.
The bond between dog and handler is undeniable and deep, K-9 officers readily admit.
"All the good qualities of Craig Lehner are the good qualities we see in this dog," said Losi. "Loyalty, professionalism, dedication, we even see a quirky sense of humor when we play with him. He definitely embodies the spirit of Craig Lehner."