DENVER, Ind. – When Ken Licklider heard in November that a French police dog named Diesel had been killed by the terrorists suspected of organizing the Paris attacks, his response was immediate.
“We were all thinking the same thing: We want to help them,” he said.
And this week, that’s just what he did.
Licklider, owner of Vohne Liche Kennels, flew in Diesel’s French police handler, Joss, to pick out a new K-9 to replace his 7-year-old partner who died while defending Paris.
The kennel based in Denver, Indiana, is one of the largest K-9 training facilities in the country, and has trained dogs for more than 5,000 law enforcement and government agencies.
Licklider and Caesar DePaco, a philanthropist based in New Jersey who donates money to replace police dogs that are killed in the line of duty, donated the dog to Joss, who is a police officer in France’s special-forces unit called RAID.
Joss, who couldn’t give his last name for security reasons, arrived at Vohne Liche Kennels from France on Monday evening and spent the next two days carefully selecting his new K-9 partner.
“It’s a huge investment to get a police dog,” he said through an interpreter. “There are many candidates, but very few are chosen.”
The canine Joss ended up selecting was a Belgian shepherd dog – the same breed as his former partner Diesel.
The canines are strong, healthy and rustic, and make excellent police dogs, he said.
“They are just the right fit,” Joss said.
Now, the K-9 has some big shoes to fill.
Joss said he had been Diesel’s handler for five years before the dog was killed, and the two had become close friends.
It was Nov. 18 when Joss and Diesel approached a flat in St-Denis near Paris where officials believed Abdelhamid Abaaoud, the man officials thought orchestrated the attacks that killed 130 people five days before, was hiding.
Joss said police had exchanged gunfire with the suspected terrorists inside the apartment, and officers believed they were dead.
Police sent in Diesel to make sure the scene was clear. Then they heard more shots. Joss said he knew immediately that he would never see his partner again.
“It was a big, big loss,” he said. “A huge loss. We were a pair. We trusted each other completely.”
After the raid, police found the bodies of three people linked to the terror attacks, including Abaaoud, inside the apartment, and another five people were arrested.
Diesel was the first K-9 from the RAID unit to be killed in active duty. His death made headlines, and people mourned across the world.
The killing sparked the hashtags #JesuisDiesel and #Jesuischien on Twitter, which quickly became an international trending topic.
Licklider, a former Air Force master sergeant, was one of those people mourning Diesel’s death. He said it was a tragic loss that he couldn’t ignore.
“I know what it’s like to lose a dog in a similar situation, and it’s hard,” he said.
The same day Diesel was killed, Licklider told the manager of his kennel in Holland to drive down to Paris to see what they could do to help.
Then he received a phone call from DePaco, who said he wanted to purchase a dog from Vohne Liche and donate it to Joss.
Chris Engelhardt, a K-9 handler from New Jersey and DePaco’s donation liaison, said DePaco instructed him to reach out to the commanding officer of the RAID unit the same day Diesel was shot to see if they would accept a K-9 donation.
By noon the next day, the department had graciously accepted, he said.
“(DePaco) and his wife have a huge heart for police animals and the men and women who serve, so they feel it’s very necessary that the handler who loses their partner gets up and running and back on the streets with their dog,” Engelhardt said.
He said DePaco has paid to replace 15 police dogs since 2013 that have died in the line of duty.
The donation will allow Joss to get back out on the street with a canine partner faster than ever, Licklider said, since the dog has already received advanced training on attacking and sniffing out bombs.
He said if the RAID unit had purchased a dog in France, it would have taken a year to train and assimilate the K-9.
“Our dogs are already in college, and their dogs are in grade school, so this allows them to get back into the game faster,” Licklider said.
Joss said he was overwhelmed by the outpouring of sympathy and support after Diesel’s death, and never would have guessed his new partner would be from the U.S. – especially a small American town like Denver.
But Licklider said geography has nothing to do with helping out a fellow dog handler.
“We are brothers now,” he told Joss on Wednesday. “This is our life, and we are a brotherhood, whether you’re a dog handler in New Jersey, Indiana or France. We’re all the same.”