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K-9 Al ready to enjoy home life

With seven years on the force, police dog retires with honors

  • Jaxon Jennings gives a pet to police dog Al as handler Deputy Sheriff Kim Lay looks on. The scene was during Al’s retirement party. He had been an Anderson County Sheriff’s Department K-9 officer for seven years. - G. Chambers Williams III

  • Deputy Sheriff Kim Lay has been the handler of police dog Al, a Labrador retriever, for the past seven years. Al retired from his work as part of the K-9 Corps at the Anderson County Sheriff’s Office last week. - G. Chambers Williams III

Several hundred people turned out last Thursday for the retirement party of an Anderson County Sheriff’s deputy.

But this wasn’t your normal badge-wearing, gun-toting deputy. This was a four-legged one named Al, who had been a member of the sheriff’s K-9 Corps for the past seven years.

“I’ve had him with me since 2012, and he’s ready to retire,” said Al’s handler, Deputy Sheriff Kim Lay.

Now, at age 11, this friendly black Labrador retriever gets to “enjoy home life with me,” Lay said. “We’re excited for him.”

Many of those attending the party at Anderson County High School were kids who have encountered Al during his duties as Lay’s partner while she has worked as a school resource officer in the county school system.

“He loves the kids and the kids love him,” Lay said.

Unlike German shepherds, police dogs like Al who are Labrador retrievers are not trained for aggressive duties such as criminal apprehension. Instead, they are used to find drugs – such as in school lockers – and to conduct search and rescue operations, said Anderson County Sheriff Russell Barker.

“We figured out a long time ago that labs aren’t suited to criminal apprehension,” Barker said. “They just don’t have it in them to be aggressive like that. We decided labs were best for the schools. Al’s demeanor with the kids is fabulous, and he’s so approachable. The kids all want to pet him.”

The same is true for Al’s replacement, a 5-year-old black lab named Max, who the Sheriff’s Office purchased from the Knoxville Labrador Retriever Rescue for just $250.

“That’s a bargain, considering that some of the German shepherds trained as police dogs can go for as much as $10,000,” Barker said.

As for Al, he “was none too happy about Max” taking over his job, Barker said.

“He really didn’t like seeing Max going to work with Kim instead of him,” the sheriff said. “Both of them live with Kim and her husband, Larry Lay, who is also one of our officers.”

Barker said the Sheriff’s Office now has four K-9 units.

“They have great public relations value for us,” he said. “The labs go into the schools and to places like the fair.”

When choosing a new dog for the program, “We have to judge the dog’s demeanor to make sure it’s right for the job,” Barker said.

“It also takes special people to be K-9 handlers,” he said. “They are constantly on call, and they have to care for the animal around the clock. It becomes your child, and you’re responsible for it. These dogs aren’t something you can just leave with your brother if you want to go out of town.”

The K-9 program also is “very expensive,” Barker said. “But it’s worth every penny.”

Kim Lay said she’s been taking Al into the schools since she got him in 2012, and her most memorable moments with him have been when she was doing K-9 demonstrations and Al was interacting with the kids.

“He’s just always loved that, and so do the kids,” she said.

During the retirement party, Al showed off his friendly nature, seeming to be just as excited to see the kids as they were to see him. He greeted everyone with his tail wagging, and never shied away.

“It’s just the way he is,” Lay said.

From now on, Al will be a house pet, and can take it easy. But Lay knows he will miss going out to meet the kids each day.