She stayed active right up until the very end. Really, she was like those aging police officers who never really care about retiring, preferring instead to spend what amounts to be their entire life on
duty, or in the ready for the next shift.
She spent her entire career in Narcotics, fearlessly uncovering the marijuana, the meth and the money that makes the assignment exciting, rewarding and very satisfying.
There are those officers who look up to the leaders amongst their peers, albeit on patrol or an investigative bureau, daring to describe them as “the best there is” or – more specifically – “the best I’ll ever know.”
This officer fit that mold. It can truly be said she was practically born into the HPD Narcotics Division. It was the only job she knew. Last year she was credited with statistics that would befit a Hall of Fame career: From September 2007 until her passing in early June, she was credited with seizing more than $46 million in estimated value of narcotics, and more than $6 million in currency was seized.
The latter wasn’t hay – it was hard cash!
Those were the “good ole days.” Unfortunately, times change for an “old dog,” like this officer. Normally healthy enough to have never missed work, even one day in the last 13 years, she began to slow down.
Even so, Sita, the oldest K9 officer on the HPD four-legged roster, believed the words of her partner, Narcotics Officer and Lead K9 Trainer / handler Kristin Uhlin, when she once again whispered into the Sita’s ear, “You’re the best dog ever!”
“I’ve always referred to her as that and I trained her as that. My dog is the best dog ever. You should believe your dog is. You have to develop trust and these words help in that special bonding process. I nicknamed her as ‘the best dog ever’ and have been telling her that ever since.”
Sita never retired. Like the other Narcotics K9s, and those on Patrol and the Bomb Squad, she lived with Uhlin, who constantly tended to her best friend and noticed at the beginning of June that Sita seemed different.
About April, she began to slow down. “She wasn’t herself,” Uhlin remembered. The vet did tests that showed she had “a platelet problem” that was not cancer. Uhlin echoed what might be said about an aging grandparent: “We couldn’t figure out what was going on with her other than the fact she was getting older.”
Sita was effectively “off-duty” during the department’s grueling deployment schedule during the demonstration periods after the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
In addition, Uhlin was training two new narcotics canine teams. “During that time, she was resting, coming off medication and seemed to be responding well,” the veteran handler said. “The blood tests were good shortly after the demobilization of the department’s demonstration schedule of the 12-hour shifts.”
But bad things started happening that were unbefitting the grand dame of the K9 corps. The old dog, who always seemed to teach her younger upstarts the new – and old – tricks of the drug-sniffing trade, was not well. Uhlin was stunned when she heard her partner whine early one morning as she dressed for work.
“She never whined,” Uhlin said. “It was 4 o’clock that morning. I had gotten up to go to work and found that her eyes looked glossy. I picked her up and took her out. I believed she had had some sort of seizure and couldn’t stand up. I called the vet and told him I was coming in.”
At this point, we can’t report to you that our story has a happy ending.
Uhlin rushed Sita to Vergi Veterinarian, a 24-hour emergency and critical care hospital that provides care and services to all HPD canines. There, she met Dr. Michael Seely, Chief of Staff for the hospital (Seely has known Sita her entire career).
The Family Gathers
Uhlin entered a waiting room with Sita and soon after Dr. Seely came in, she could read the look on the veterinarian’s face. Sita wasn’t going home with her handler… ever again.
Now then, officers in Houston blue stick together, and here is one more time you will see the proof. All twelve narcotics K9 handlers, who had worked side by side with the oldest narcotics canine, not just in Houston but throughout Harris County and, probably Southeast Texas, descended on the vet clinic to pay their respects.
It was like a family gathering at the deathbed of a loved one.
They took turns petting her and each presented her with a Milk-Bone dog biscuit, Sita’s favorite treat.
Sita lay on a blanket, her tennis ball ever-present in her mouth (which was her reward when she located narcotics). Uhlin said she had refused this same treat for the past hour. However, drenched in the loving bonds of her two-legged colleagues, she chewed slowly on a Milk-Bone.
“To me,” Uhlin said, “she knew what was about to happen and was okay with it.” The other officers present were not.
It was Uhlin’s second time down this road. Her patrol K9 partner, Fero, was euthanized at the end of 2009. However, Fero was retired at the time.
Dr. Seely felt there was no hope for recovery and, as animal lovers know, that meant that Sita would continue to suffer, as she got older.
The officers spent the last minutes of Sita’s life petting her, kissing her and expressing their love and deep-felt devotion after working with her year in and year out capturing crooks.
There were others who loved Sita. One of Dr. Seely’s veterinarian technicians named Rigo, heard what was happening and came in on his day off (which happened to be his birthday), to pay his final respects to the K9 he loved. Rigo was the primary “vet tech” that cared for Sita anytime she came in for a visit, especially during her last months.
“That’s how much Sita meant to him,” Uhlin explained. “She touched so many hearts. So many people loved her it was unbelievable.”
Sita died with her family present. It was 10 a.m. June 1, exactly eight days short of her 15th birthday. She died like a champ. “I’ve had a badge made for each of my dogs,” Uhlin said. “She had her badge on her collar and tennis ball in her mouth when they administered the medicine. She went peacefully.”
She is the 100 Club of Greater Houston’s Service Animal of the Year for 2020.
Sita was cremated. The response to the announcement of her death was, well, like a beloved human officer had taken her last breath. Uhlin received flowers and gifts for weeks following the loss of her partner.
A Story of Teamwork
“We usually don’t do memorials,” Uhlin said. The last one for a K9 was for Ronnie, the patrol K9 officer who died in the line of duty.
The pandemic rules notwithstanding, a memorial service is planned for 11 a.m. on Friday, September 18 at the Houston Police Officer’s Union. Lunch will be served.
Besides Uhlin, another speaker will be retired narcotics K9 handler Gary Doyle, who spent 29 of his 37 years with HPD with K9’s, particularly those in Narcotics. Uhlin said of Doyle, “he had a lot to do with helping me with Sita.”
Another speaker will be Rudy Cabrera, the chief nurse of LifeFlight. Cabrera’s message will add dimension to law enforcement K9 operations throughout the Greater Houston area.
A campaign has been underway to establish a “tactical emergency K9 care unit” attached to LifeFlight. It would mean a K9 wounded or seriously injured in the line of duty would be LifeFlighted to an emergency care facility.
Uhlin explained that LifeFlight currently offers an eight-hour training course on K9 emergency care. “There is no clearance yet,” Uhlin was careful to explain. “If a police K9 gets hurt on duty, LifeFlight will fly the dog for emergency care. We started working closely with them. Sita was the first ‘test pilot.’”
“They want to train K9 handlers all over the city. They’re looking to go national to see that there is proper care for their K9s and establish the possible procedural format that needs to be met when a dog is LifeFlighted,” added Uhlin.
She described this pioneering service as the “dream” of the late Dr. Red Duke, the famed trauma surgeon and professor at the University Of Texas Health Science Center. Duke founded LifeFlight. He notably had his dog, Jake, at his side when he made his rounds at the Texas Medical Center.
Uhlin pointed out that the Narcotics K9 teams, under the direction of Sgt. Michael Perales, should be considered second to none in the nation. Ditto for those in Patrol and the Bomb Squad.
And she made another important point, using her partner, Sita as an illustration:
“The reason she was exceptional was because of the officers in the police department who go out there every day fighting crime and saving lives. Narcotics takes those drugs off the street and makes it harder for dealers to operate. If it wasn’t for their hard work, Sita wouldn’t have had the amount of seizures she had. We don’t generate our own work. The work our dogs get is due to the hard work of our officers.”