Serious injuries force police dog Dax to retire after storied 9-year career

A month after suffering serious injuries while tracking down a suspected car thief, renowned Lake County sheriff’s police dog Dax is turning in his badge.

“There is no way to quantify or properly express what Dax’s service has meant to the Lake County Sheriff’s Office, the Lake County community, his supporters across the nation, and especially me,” Dax’s partner, Deputy John Forlenza, said in a retirement announcement.

“I cannot refrain from stating that his service has been exemplary, and most importantly, he has saved countless lives, including my own. I am proud to have been his handler and best friend for the last nine years,” he added. “Dax is a true hero and well deserving of the rest and love that waits for him in his retirement.”

The 9-year-old German shepherd will continue to live with Forlenza and his family in retirement.

Dax suffered neck and spine injuries on March 3 while apprehending a suspect in a wooded area near Zion. Authorities say the suspect had stolen a car in Wisconsin and then was pursued into Illinois, where he crashed and fled on foot before his capture.

The injuries left Dax suffering temporary paralysis to his hindquarters, officials said. He later was diagnosed with cervical and thoracolumbar Intervertebral Disc Disease and lumbosacral IVDD.

Lake County sheriff's police dog Dax was surrounded with get-well cards and treats while recovering from an injury suffered March 3. Courtesy of the Lake County Sheriff's Office

Through intensive physical therapy, Dax regained his ability to walk and use his hind legs, but his team of veterinarians determined that he should not return to active duty, according to the sheriff’s office.

It’s the end of a storied career that began when Dax, then 13 months old, joined the sheriff’s office in the spring of 2015. Over the years, he and Forlenza have located more than 400 missing endangered people or fleeing felons, seized hundreds of kilos of illegal drugs and millions of dollars of ill-gotten cash and dozens of firearms discarded by offenders.

His exploits have earned him more than a dozen awards and honors, making him a star. He’s appeared on national television programs, including the “Today” show, “Access Daily,” “America’s Top Dog,” “Dynamic K9 Duos,” and “Hero Dogs,” not to mention numerous local TV appearances and even “People” magazine.

Lake County sheriff’s police dog Dax, joined by partner Deputy John Forlenza, poses in front of a poster of himself at the American Humane Hero Dog Awards Gala. Dax won the Law Enforcement Award in 2019. Courtesy of the Lake County Sheriff’s Office

His long list of awards includes Illinois House of Representatives — General Assembly Award (2016); Chicago Crime Commission — Paws of Distinction Award (2017); K9s of Valor Foundation — K9 of the Year (2018); The 100 Club of Chicago — Valor Award (2019); American Humane Hero Dog — Law Enforcement Winner (2019); Italian American Police Association — Officer of the Year (2019) Illinois Sheriff’s Association — Award of Merit (2022); Illinois Law Enforcement — Medal of Honor (2023); and The German shepherd Dog Club of America — Hero Dog Award (2023).

He also competed in several regional and national United States Police Canine Association trials across the country, earning numerous top finishes in the areas of tracking, article searches, narcotics, suspect searches and protection. In all, Dax won six USPCA Regional Championships and earned two Tracking Exceptional Certifications.

Among the many television appearances for Lake County sheriff’s police dog Dax and partner Deputy John Forlenza was a spot on the “Today” show. Courtesy of Lake County Sheriff’s Office

“Deputy John Forlenza and K9 Dax exemplify what a true partnership looks like,” Sheriff John D. Idleburg said in Thursday’s announcement. “They are among the top canine teams in the nation. There was virtually nothing K9 Dax couldn’t handle.”

A retirement ceremony will be held at a future date, officials said.

Lake County sheriff’s police dog Dax poses with some of the trophies he’s won over the years in national and regional competitions. Courtesy of Lake County Sheriff’s Department
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