NEWS-_Zar

After nine years of tracking down missing children, patients and dangerous criminals, Duxbury’s most famous Slovak shepherd is finally set to retire. He is 10 years old.

In September, K9 Zar will turn in his vest for a much quieter life after work. He will no longer have to sleep with one eye open as he awaits a call in the dead of night. There will be no more strict diet, constant commands or weekend training. Instead, much like a human, Zar will spend the rest of his life enjoying his home and family - and maybe even a steak or two.

 

“He’s done his job and now it’s time for him to relax,” Duxbury K9 officer Ryan Cavicchi said. “I said to myself nine and a half years ago that I wanted to have a good career with him and then retire him when he turned 10.”

Since Zar was just a year- old pup, Cavicchi has been his constant companion, a pal as much as a partner, a brother as much as a trainer. In gunfire and by Cavicchi’s bed in Kingston, the two have forged a bond the man and dog cliché understates but also partly captures: yes, Cavicchi and Zar truly are the best of friends.

It was a pitch black May night when an attempted home invasion at a fellow officer’s house in Duxbury prompted Cavicchi and Zar to deploy. A man with a gun presented himself at the door before running off into the woods, armed and ready to fire at anyone who got in his way. With Zar tracking and Cavicchi closely behind, the two were hot on the trail of the fleeing suspect. That’s when the first shot rang clear.

“I heard the shot go off,” Cavicchi said. “I could see the flash bang right in front of my face.”

Shortly after, a second deafening shot echoed. Just yards away from the armed suspect, Zar’s instincts told him to finish the job, to disarm the man and keep his partner safe. But with no moonlight and poor visibility, Cavicchi’s only option was to fall back with Zar and set up a perimeter away from the ambush. Later that evening, by Route 3, the convicted armed robber turned himself in to state police.

“Zar did his job so well that he brought us right into the gunfire,” Cavicchi said. “Without him we would have never found the guy. We would have never known who he was. Going through that together was probably the most rewarding thing.”

The trust in that moment, unlike Zar’s incredible sense of smell, was not instinctive. Cavicchi and his partner have had almost a decade of training together and they’ve built an undeniable sense of mutual dependence. Though they cannot confirm it with words, Zar and Cavicchi know they have each other’s back.

Cavicchi said he has stacks and stacks of everything Zar has accomplished in his career. Four years ago in Can- ton, he tracked the scent of an Alzheimer’s patient who had gone missing after leaving her facility. After an initially unsuccessful search, Zar’s nose twitched on the way back to the cruiser. Outside of the search grid, Zar pulled Cavic- chi to a nearby creek. The elderly woman was there in the water, alive but nearly hypothermic.

“If it wasn’t for Zar, she probably would have died,” Cavicchi said. “To this day I still don’t know how he picked her up.”

Successful missions like this one are not rare for Zar. But his career entails more than the fortunate rescues he’s led. Six years ago the dog’s impeccable instincts and alert- ness helped make him one of the first highly trained dogs on the Metropolitan Law Enforcement Council’s SWAT team. Last month, he participated in the successful mock extraction of an abducted girl in Norwood. And surely, if retirement weren’t so close in the future, he would be called upon for many more missions.

Though he’s still as sharp as nails, the 24/7 stress of being a police dog for nine years has begun to take a physical toll on Zar, who Cavicchi said is starting to tire more easily than he used to. But bumps and bruises have never distracted him. One January, Zar sliced his paw wide open during a search through snow and ice. His artery had been cut and blood was pouring. But because Zar refused to give up on his search, it took Cavicchi minutes to realize the red drops in the snow were from his partner.

“Blood is gushing out and he’s still working,” Cavicchi said. “I patched him up right there. He continued the search and found the person at his house.”

Despite the resulting five stitches, he has always been a healthy dog. Perhaps that’s why Cavicchi was so surprised when fellow K9 trainer Ken Ballinger told him it might be time to start thinking about Zar’s retirement.

“He just wasn’t completing some of the training as fast as he used to,” Cavicchi said. “I didn’t want to see it. I didn’t want to believe it. He wants to keep going but his body won’t allow it anymore.”

Cavicchi has begun to leave Zar home some nights when he goes to work. In just a couple of short weeks, Zar will stop going to work completely. For Cavicchi, the end of his partner’s career won’t be easy to come to grips with. He’ll miss how Zar used to nudge him awake in the morning and the long conversations they had in the cruiser. Perhaps most of all though, he’ll miss the mutual loyalty they’ve enjoyed together at work.

“All dogs have their own personality. His is being loyal to a fault,” Cavicchi said. “My wife would say he’ll look at me with eyes like he would do anything for me.”

Zar will continue to live with Cavicchi at home for the rest of his life. And he loves his family. When Cavicchi’s sons were younger, Zar would corral them in the yard and make sure they didn’t do anything they weren’t supposed to. He treats his family as a pack and is always on alert to make sure they stay safe. Though he responds to commands from Cavicchi’s wife, Zar will always reserve the utmost loyalty for his partner.

“He may look at my wife like, ‘hey, are you kidding me?’” But he does listen to her,” Cavicchi said. “His eyes are for me though, that’s the easiest way to put it.”

For the first four or five years of his career, Zar barely slept. His job was his life and he was always ready for the call. Now, as he transitions into retirement, he’s starting to close his eyes more and relax. Though his wife has assured him Zar is not refusing food, Cavicchi calls home every 10 or 15 minutes to check up on his best bud.

Cavicchi will start training a new dog named Delta in September, and while he’s excited about the opportunity to continue as a K9 officer, it will be no easy task to replicate the career he had with Zar. It will be even harder for Cavicchi to face the fact that Zar will be just fine at home without him. As partners they were always in sync. They could read each other’s minds.

If Cavicchi could have one chance to speak to Zar on re- tirement day, he would tell him just how much he cares for him now and always.

“To be able to tell him that I really love him, like anyone else, that’s what I’d really want to say to him,” Cavicchi said. “I want him to really feel that he’s protected me more times than I’ll ever know and that I’ll always be there for him.”

Ryan Cavicchi and the Duxbury Police department would like to welcome K9 Delta to the force. After training in the fall, he will take over as the town’s new police dog. He’s a nine-month-old Dutch Shepherd bred and raised in Plymouth County.

Duxbury’s K9 program relies on donations from the public to help cover the cost of the dog, K9 equipment and equipment maintenance. Officer Cavicchi has set up a tax- deductible donation fund for those interested in helping the cause.

If interested, donations can be made by writing a check addressed to Duxbury Police K9, with attention to Ryan Cavicchi. Checks can be mailed to or dropped of at the new police station at 155 Mayflower Street. For more info or to request a receipt, please email Officer Cavicchi at rcavicchi@ duxburypolice.org.