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Police dog first to be buried in special pet cemetery

SHARE Police dog first to be buried in special pet cemetery

Law enforcement agencies throughout the nation this week are remembering their colleagues who died in the line of duty.

Memorial services are being held as part of the annual effort to pay tribute to fallen officers.

This year, a special tribute is being paid to a Salt Lake officer who didn't die in the line of duty, but was a true trailblazer for the department.

"JJ," the Salt Lake Police Department's first Bloodhound, will be honored during a ceremony at Mountain View Memorial Cemetery, 3115 E. 7800 South, on Saturday. The cemetery recently opened the Cottonwood Canyons Pet Memorial Garden, an area dedicated for pet burials. Part of the new pet cemetery includes an area specifically for service animals.

JJ will be the first service animal interned there.

"I think it's a neat idea," said Salt Lake Police Chief Chris Burbank. "Mike (Serio, JJ's handler) was very attached to JJ. The two of them did some tremendous things for Salt Lake City. It's very fitting to be able to honor a service dog like that."

During his nearly 9-year career, JJ and Serio successfully tracked down 271 people. JJ died March 14 after a battle with cancer. He and Serio were named Officers of the Year for the Salt Lake Police Department at a ceremony earlier this month.

The service animal area in the cemetery is a first for Salt Lake County. The Ogden City Cemetery established the Tiffany Mack Memorial Pet Cemetery in 1991 and has several service animals buried there.

The service animal area at Cottonwood is for police dogs, fire dogs, seeing-eye dogs or others who have been certified.

The idea of having a separate area for service animals came just as the pet cemetery plans were being finalized, and word of JJ's death was released.

"We thought this is just really something the public is interested in. People really want to pay tribute to JJ,'" said Robert Quist, general manager of Memorial Mortuaries and Cemeteries.

Just as human officers receive full honors when they die, Quist said there was a feeling among some that service animals should receive some honor, too. There is usually a bond between an officer and their partner. But the attachment between a K9 officer and its handler is unique, he said.

"When you talk to an officer that has served with a K9, there is a bond there that is beyond description. They are with their partner every waking moment. (Human) officers go home to their families at night, they spend time away from their partner, they go on vacation. When it's a service animal it's magnified beyond that. They really become part of their family," Quist said.

In the case of JJ and Serio, the bond was even more special because Serio took the initiative to purchase JJ himself.

"Mike got JJ on his own. JJ was not owned by the city," Burbank said. "Mike went out and purchased JJ as a puppy, did the training on his own and presented him to the police department."

Until then, the department had never had a Bloodhound on its K9 squad. Serio convinced his commanders to give him a chance with JJ. Today, because of JJ and Serio's efforts, the department has purchased two Bloodhounds of its own to be in the K9 unit.

A plaque with JJ's picture will be dedicated during a ceremony Saturday at the pet cemetery.

E-mail: preavy@desnews.com