‘It doesn’t matter if he has four legs or two legs’: Statue would honor Lake County sheriff’s canine Dax as one of the fallen

Lake County Sheriff’s Office police dog Dax won numerous awards and accolades in nine years with the department. Courtesy of Lake County Sheriff’s Office

A push is on to cap the awards, accolades and recognitions for one of Lake County’s best known crimefighters with a permanent tribute in a public plaza.

In recent weeks, county board member Diane Hewitt has been navigating myriad details to have a bronze statue of Dax, the award-winning Lake County sheriff’s police dog, designed, created, funded and installed at Lincoln Plaza adjoining the government center in Waukegan.

“I have formed a committee of 10 people to help me with all of this,” she said.

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Should Dax be sitting? Wearing his badge on his collar? Laying down? Life-size or larger? Hewitt said she wants to have all the details finalized by June 1 so the statue can be made and in place for the annual police memorial ceremony in May 2025.

“I believe Dax is a fallen officer,” she said. “It doesn't matter if he has four legs or two legs.”

A Gofundme page to be launched by Freedom Farm for Vets, a charitable organization in Wadsworth, is the last hurdle.

“Right now, a guesstimate is $40,000,” Hewitt said.

Hewitt said the project will be funded solely through donations and “not a penny of county money.” Anything beyond what’s needed will be donated to Freedom Farm, she added.

Hewitt, who described herself as a “dog person,” emphasized the recognition will include a plaque honoring all sheriff’s dogs.

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“I don’t want any of our K9 handlers to feel slighted,” she said. “Dax will be the statue but it’s going to honor all the others.”

Dax, a German shepherd, joined the sheriff’s office in 2015 when he was 13 months old. During his well-documented and celebrated career, he and partner Deputy John Forlenza assisted in locating more than 400 missing endangered people or fleeing felons.

The pair also helped seize cash and firearms and detect hundreds of kilograms of illegal drugs. In early March, Dax was injured while helping apprehend a fleeing suspect in a wooded area causing temporary paralysis to his hindquarters.

The situation exasperated existing neck and spine injuries. He regained the ability to walk after intensive physical therapy but was retired from service April 10 in a ceremony attended by about 250, including Hewitt. He was euthanized two days later.

During his service, Dax received more than a dozen awards and appeared on numerous local and national news programs, “representing Lake County and showing what a true partnership looks like,” reads a resolution of special recognition approved Tuesday by the county board.

The resolution honors Dax’ service in “saving countless lives, apprehending violent offenders and keeping drugs from being distributed in our communities.”

“The dog was just unbelievable. He was the best of the best,” Hewitt said. “There’s no other dog so far that has done what he has done.”

Canine officer Dax, the Lake County Sheriff’s Office police dog, once sniffed out nine juveniles after reports of two stolen vehicles within 24 hours. He and handler Deputy John Forlenza are credited with locating more than 400 missing or endangered people or fleeing felons. Courtesy of Lake County Sheriff’s Office
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