By Andrea Cordle
Grove City Editor
The employees within the Grove City Division of Police are mourning the loss of one of their own.
In early June, Max, the 8-year-old canine officer with the police department died.
According to Lt. Jason Stern, a cancerous growth was discovered, resulting in an emergency surgery for the Belgian Malinois, who had been with the police department since 2015. It was a risky procedure and Max did not make it through the surgery.
“It was so unexpected,” said Stern. “Most of us are still processing it. It is shocking. He was so healthy and had endless energy.”
Many officers worked closely with the canine, but none more so than Brian Kitko, who was Max’s handler. Kitko worked and trained with Max all day. He would then take Max home at the end of their shift.
“They were almost inseparable,” said Stern. “They had a remarkable connection.”
Max joined the Grove City Division of Police when he was 2 years old. He was the city’s first canine officer since the 1960s. He came from France and was initially trained through Storm Dog, a training facility in Delaware County. Kitko and Max were certified as a law enforcement canine unit through the Ohio Peace Officer Training Commission.
According to the division of police, Max served with the special operations bureau and patrol. He was deployed more than 1,290 times and assisted in more than 600 arrests.
“That is pretty tremendous,” said Stern. “That is about 100 arrests a year. That is a lot for anybody.”
Max was trained in narcotics detection, criminal apprehension, and article search.
Not only was Max a benefit for the police department, but he was also a community asset.
“Max was kind of a celebrity,” said Stern.
Kitko and Max participated in Grove City events, marched in parades, and they were regular presenters at the Grove City Library.
“That was a bigger role for Max than anticipated,” said Stern. “Brian (Kitko) embraced that. Max was a serious working dog – he was all business. But he would go out in the community around kids, and he was great. That was a well-done component of Brian’s job.”
On June 15, Max’s remains were returned to Grove City.
“That was a somber affair,” said Stern.
According to Stern, several officers volunteered their time to take part in a police procession as Kitko brought Max’s remains back to the city. It was a small, private matter, as requested by Officer Kitko.
Stern said there are no plans for a public memorial. He said there is a patio at the police office, on Park Street, with bricks that feature the names of retired officers. Stern said they may dedicate a brick to Max.
As for the future of the canine program in the Grove City Division of Police, Stern said that is unknown.
“The sudden nature (of Max’s death) caught us flat footed,” said Stern. “We are not prepared to open that door yet.”