Deputy loses partner to illness

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AUBURN – Androscoggin County Sheriff’s Sgt. Jim Jacques had a partner who could sniff out hidden drugs, jump over a 6-foot wall and outrun just about anybody.

His partner was a Belgian Malinois named Koko who worked with Jacques for four years before retiring in 2001. Koko died last month after what Jacques described as a fruitful police career and a lively retirement.

“We were together pretty much 24/7,” Jacques said. “She had a back problem, and over time, it got worse. It got to the point where she couldn’t even hold herself up.”

Koko was famed in police circles for her ability to sniff out marijuana, hashish, cocaine, crack and heroin.

She also once helped find a 13-year-old girl lost in the West Poland woods and she was Jacques’ constant back up.

Drug agents recalled Koko as a hard worker who could be trusted to find drugs that remained hidden from the agents’ view.

“She was a mild mannered dog, with a slender body which could get her into tight places. She had a good nose for detecting drugs,” said Maine Drug Enforcement Agency Supervisor Gerry Baril. “Without those dogs, we would miss an untold amount of drugs.”

While admiring her police work, officers never forgot that at heart, Koko was a dog. When she wasn’t on the job, she liked to play.

“When I was in the drug unit, I remember playing with Koko at the Sheriff’s Department,” said former drug agent Tom Slivinski. “She actually leaped 5 feet straight up to catch a snowball I tossed. I then threw a snow ball into a banking, and you should have seen her dig to get at it.”

When police work was at hand, Koko was all business. Jacques recalls an incident early in their partnership when he was outside his cruiser talking to a suspect. The man, sensing that he was about to be arrested, turned to run away from the officer.

For Jacques, it was a no-brainer. He pressed a button on a remote control device that opens a door to his cruiser and out sprang Koko.

“The guy turned around, he saw the dog and he stopped,” Jacques recalled.

Good thinking on the part of the suspect. After years of rigorous training, Koko knew that to catch and restrain a suspect, she was to latch on to the person with her strong jaws and remained fastened that way until ordered to let go.

Koko was 9 years old when she died. Her health problems developed after years of training and more years of police service. She rode around the bumpy back roads of the county with Jacques, being called on to leap into the fray upon command and summoned to different parts of the state to help drug investigators find a stash of narcotics.

“It’s rough work,” Jacques said. “Police dogs are required to do a lot more than the average house dog.”

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