By Avery County Sheriff Kevin Frye
As often happens the first reports when an incident happens often contain incomplete or even inaccurate information. Today I want to give a full report on the unfortunate death of our newest K-9, a five month old yellow lab named Gunner. Gunner was in training to become partners with School Resource Offier Brett Stockton.
On June 25, SRO Stockton had been training with Gunner at his residence just across the Tennessee line. SRO Stockton has over 80 acres and uses it regularly to teach Gunner how to track people along with other training. They had finished training and Deputy Stockton was putting up the training aids into his patrol SUV, Gunner was off leash playing around the yard as usual. SRO Stockton heard his dog yelp from the other side of the vehicle and found his dog pinned down by a large bluish-silver dog resembling a pit bull. The stray dog apparently just came out of the wooded area very near the residence. SRO Stockton immediately kicked the aggressive dog repeatedly and the dog finally released his hold on Gunner. The final kick rendered the aggressive dog unconscious and SRO Stockton immediately grabbed up Gunner and put him into the patrol car and rushed him to the vet. At first, SRO Stockton thought Gunners leg was the worst injury, but within minutes Gunner went into shock and succumbed to massive hemorrhaging.
There are so many rumors and speculation I have heard about this, most resulting from the lack of information which was previously reported. We pick K9s which are going to be in schools for their drive to play and complete lack of aggressiveness. Gunner was no exception and was a playful puppy just learning to track and locate controlled substances. We train with Carter County and other K9 units regularly and anyone who has worked with or around Gunner can clearly state he was certainly not at all aggressive. Information we have received from Carter County deputies state that about a week prior to this incident a dog of similar description as the stray dog killed another dog less than a mile away. When SRO Stockton arrived back to his residence, the stray dog was no longer where it was when Stockton left. We are not making any condemnation of any breed of dog because although certain breeds are more protective or aggressive than others, it is usually the ownership or lack thereof which causes a dog to act. To our knowledge this is a feral dog which has no ownership and is just wandering in the area, a dog like that is dangerous to other animals and small children.
We at the Avery County Sheriff’s Office want everyone to know we greatly appreciate the outpouring of support and sympathy we have received from so many people. As sheriff, I want to personally thank Commissioner Blake Vance for his concern in checking on SRO Stockton and offering condolences about K9 Gunner. To a K9 officer, even in just a few months, a bond forms which surpasses the love we have for pets, this is not their pet but their partner and their family. Anyone who could have heard the heartbreaking sobbing of a deputy who just lost his partner like I did when SRO Stockton called and informed me about the incident would know how strong this bond is.
I also want to again ask Commissioner Griffith to call me if he has any questions about anything to do with the Avery County Sheriff’s Office. It was completely inappropriate and out of line for Commissioner Griffith to call the veterinarian’s office where Gunner was taken and ask for an investigation or autopsy during such a time of loss as we were facing. None of the K9s we have were purchased with county funds, we solicit donations for K9s and the community and businesses have been very supportive. A fully trained K9 costs approximately $4000.00 but thanks to our very capable K9 deputies and other K9 officers we train with, we can purchase our school K9s for about $500.00 and train them ourselves. These K9s are just as much a part of our office as any deputy so when something happens it is time to offer condolences and in my opinion not the time to try to open up another bogus investigation or use it to for political rumor spreading.
On a bright and positive note, we will have another K9 for SRO Stockton very soon, another yellow lab, thanks to retired Burke County Sheriff John McDevitt. We were one of the first counties to have full time K9s in the schools, this has been very successful and we will continue with our mission to protect our children from controlled substances. I want to thank the Carter County Sheriff’s Office, Roan Mountain Animal Hospital, Avery County Humane Society and all the wonderful people who have called or expressed their support and sympathy.
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