Dax’s big day: Hundreds turn out for decorated dog’s retirement ceremony

Hundreds gathered in Libertyville on Wednesday to celebrate the illustrious career of Lake County sheriff’s police dog Dax and wish the highly decorated German shepherd well in retirement.

  Deputy John Forlenza talks about Dax, the Lake County Sheriff’s department K9 who he has been partnered with for the last 10 years, prior to the start of a retirement ceremony on Wednesday, April 10, 2024 in Libertyville. Joe Lewnard/

Dax has served alongside Deputy John Forlenza since 2015, when he joined the office at just 13 months old. During an award-winning tenure that followed, the dynamic duo located hundreds of missing persons and fleeing suspects, helped seize hundreds of kilograms of illegal drugs and millions of dollars of ill-gotten cash, and recovered dozens of firearms discarded by offenders.

They also won dozens of awards and appeared on numerous national television programs, from the “Today” show to “America’s Top Dog.”

  More than 250 well-wishers gathered Wednesday for a retirement ceremony for Dax, the highly decorated Lake County Sheriff’s police dog. His partner, Deputy John Forlenza, is speaking at the podium toward the right. Joe Lewnard/

“It's been one of the greatest experiences of my life, being his handler,” Forlenza said.

Dax suffered neck and spine injuries March 3 while apprehending a suspect in a wooded area near Zion. Though expected to make a full recovery, his veterinarians recommended that Dax not return to duty. Instead he will enjoy retirement at home with Forlenza and his family.

  Ruth Larson, 14, of Lindenhurst pets Dax at the Lake County sheriff’s police dog’s retirement ceremony Wednesday. Ruth is the daughter of Winnetka police Sgt. Karl Larson. Joe Lewnard/
  Lake County Sheriff’s Deputy John Forlenza speaks Wednesday during a retirement ceremony for his longtime partner, police dog Dax. Joe Lewnard/

“It's been me and him a lot,” Forlenza said. “The dynamics will change a little bit where's he's home and actually getting more family time than time with me now, because I unfortunately have to go to work without him.”

But Forlenza will relish the time that they spend together off duty, and Dax will have more opportunities to do the things he enjoys, like playing and spending time in the water.

  Deputy John Forlenza pets Dax during the Lake County sheriff’s police dog’s retirement ceremony Wednesday. Joe Lewnard/
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