Among the six dogs that made up the Asheville Police Department’s K-9 unit, Nero had the status of a wise elder. By the time of his death earlier this month from a heart condition, he had attained an age virtually unheard of for dogs in his line of duty.
“He was ancient,” says Lt. Wallace Welch, director of the unit. “You expect maybe seven years out of these dogs, and with Nero we got 14. We easily doubled our investment with him.”
Nero, a Belgian Malinois, was cosmopolitan, arriving in Asheville from Europe in 1997 at three years old. His particular skill was tracking, and over a long career he picked up the trail of lost children, roaming Alzheimer’s sufferers and suspected felons with equal intensity. His signal achievement was catching the scent—and later the pant-leg—of Fletcher resident Vince Gilmer, who in 2004 was wanted for the strangulation and mutilation of his father, Dalton Gilmer.
Welch calls Nero “the best tracker I’ve ever seen.”
From the moment the dog reached American soil, Lt. Joe Johnson, commander of the APD’s south-central district, was his officer-in-charge. While off the clock, Nero spent his time in a kennel behind Johnson’s house. He was hardly a companion animal—police work doesn’t allow for much in the way of doting or dispensing of Snausages—but the dog’s loss is nevertheless keenly felt.
“As much as Joe likes to portray a tough-guy persona, he couldn’t help but develop an affection for a dog over the course of that many years,” Welch says.
The past year was a relatively slack one for Nero, slowed as he was by a sick heart and the arthritis attacking his spine. Apparently, though, the satisfaction of a job well done and a certain rubber chew-toy were reward enough for all his years of service.
“He lived for that Kong,” Welch says. “That’s all he wanted to play with. He wasn’t much tempted with anything else. In his retirement, he got plenty of Kong time and plenty of chow.”