WEST YARMOUTH — Nero, the beloved K-9 who was shot in the same incident that killed his handler, Yarmouth police Sgt. Sean Gannon, will likely make a full recovery and could even return to work one day, according to retired Yarmouth K-9 Officer Peter McClelland.
“When he gets the OK, he’ll be 100 percent physically,” said McClelland, who has been caring for Nero since the dog was released from a veterinary hospital April 18, the same day as Gannon’s funeral.
The 2½-year-old Belgian Malinois appeared alert and full of energy Friday as he cozied up to K-9 handlers during a scheduled appearance at the Yarmouth Police Department, giving no outward signs of the bullet that remains lodged under his right armpit, or of the trauma he endured just 22 days earlier.
It was then that McClelland had answered the call to drive to the Marstons Mills house where Gannon had just been shot and Nero remained missing.
“I was told, ‘They still don’t have the dog; can you go out to the scene?’” McClelland said.
As part of a team that was serving an arrest warrant, Gannon and Nero had conducted a search of the house together with two other officers, he said.
“They did it once and they didn’t find anybody. If I’m correct, they heard some noise and went back to double-check,” he said.
Gannon was shot and killed during a sweep of the attic, according to a previous statement from Cape and Islands District Attorney Michael O’Keefe. Nero was shot in the throat. Thomas Latanowich, 29, of Somerville, has been charged with Gannon’s murder and with mistreating or interfering with a police dog.
As soon as Nero was located and stabilized by the Cape Cod Regional Law Enforcement Council SWAT Team, McClelland, who had trained Nero as a puppy before handing him over to Gannon in the fall of 2016, stepped in and remained by the dog’s side.
“I was there to get him at the front door, jump in the back of a Barnstable cruiser, and we blue-lighted it over to Dennis. They knew we were coming,” he said.
Nero underwent an emergency surgery at a veterinary facility in Dennis, which required veterinarians to remove his trachea in order to repair it, according to McClellan. The next day he was taken to Cape Cod Veterinary Specialists in Buzzards Bay.
“The first night I was going to go home and I said, ‘I can’t go home’ … I just couldn’t leave him alone,” he said.
McClelland’s decision to stay the night evolved into a commitment by K-9 officers from multiple towns to keep Nero company 24 hours a day.
“It just kind of happened naturally, it wasn’t planned … There wasn’t a minute at that place he was ever alone,” he said.
Now, as Nero regains his strength but remains under doctor’s orders not to run or jump, one of the biggest challenges is containing the energy that made him such a great police dog, McClellan said.
“They have tremendous work ethic and drive … If they’re not working, they’re not happy,” he said of the Belgian Malinois breed.
Because he is retired, McClelland has been able to devote almost all of his time to Nero, easing him back into a normal routine.
Sean Gannon’s wife, Dara, has visited Nero at McClelland’s home.
“When she comes to see him, he gets very excited … He recognizes her before she gets to the door, you can tell,” he said.
In accordance with Sean Gannon’s wishes, once Nero has fully healed, he will likely return to the Gannon household to live with Dara and her two dogs, including a retired drug-detection dog that belonged to Sean, according to McClelland.
“Dara will make that decision when she’s comfortable, when she’s ready and when (Nero) gets the OK,” he said.
The probability that Nero will make a full recovery means he could possibly return to work, although that option is unlikely, he said.
In the meantime, visits from Nero have helped officers in Yarmouth and Barnstable to grieve and heal.
Barnstable K-9 Officer Sean Roycroft, who has helped care for Nero as he recovers, was greeted by exuberant licks and tail wags when he approached the K-9 on Friday. Roycroft said Barnstable police officers spent almost two hours with Nero when he visited their station recently.
“There’s just something about him. He’s got that healing quality,” he said of the dog.
Heroes in Transition, a Mashpee-based nonprofit organization, has promised part of the proceeds from its second annual Ruck4HIT relay, which began Friday, to go toward purchasing a new K-9 for the Yarmouth Police Department, according to a statement from the group.
Yarmouth K-9 Officer Michael Kramer said it was too soon to think about replacing Gannon’s position, but Deputy Chief Steven Xiarhos said the department planned to accept the donation of a new dog sometime in the future.