Kanon, left, a shelter dog trained in police work, died two months after being donated to a North Carolina police department. Carol Skaziak of Throw Away Dogs wants to know what happened. (Courtesy of Throw Away Dogs/Kait Moore)

The Throw Away Dogs Project is a Philly charity run by volunteers dedicated to finding and saving stray dogs who have potential to work as K-9 police dogs. The team devotes months of training to bring strays who could have been euthanized to the professional standards of a K-9. Since 2014, they've donated some 24 trained dogs to police departments across the country that couldn't afford police dogs of their own.

So when one turned up dead less than four months after it was donated, they were a little upset.

"This turned into something really, really messy," said Throw Away Dogs Executive Director Carol Skaziak. "We have never had this issue."

Skaziak said she was shocked in March when she learned that Kanon, a 2-year-old Dutch Shepherd, had died just four months after being donated to the Bryson City Police Department in North Carolina, where he was set to undergo formal K-9 training. She was also told his body was cremated within hours of his death.

 

The town says Kanon choked to death after chewing off a plastic piece of the outdoor kennel where he was reportedly being kept. But Skaziak said they should have known not to keep the dog with someone who had not undergone K-9 training.

"Kanon was a bit of a handful. He needed an experienced handler," she said. "The right thing to do, if they had nowhere to place the dog, was to call us and say, 'Hey, there's a problem.' ... We would have never given the dog to someone with no experience whatsoever."

Regina Mathis, Bryson City town manager, told Metro the officer Kanon was staying with was set to begin training side-by-side with Kanon, and was only off-duty temporarily due to a paperwork glitch.

"This gentleman bonded with the dog. They bonded very, very well," Mathis said. "One afternoon he went out to the kennel to see the dog, and the dog was dead." (Mathis specifically said the inactive officer's wife first found the dog, but said he observed the same situation.)

Mathis said the dog's plastic kennel had visible bite marks and plastic pieces were seen nearby. While police officials were "distraught" by Kanon's death, she said, they called a vet and were told to send the dog straight to a crematorium. They tried to stop it after Skaziak asked them for a necropsy, but they were too late.

"It was tragic. We wish it hadn't have happened," Mathis said. "I promise you that we didn't get this dog to abuse it in any way. We got this dog so that we could use it."

Mathis said her town of 1,500, which has endured some hate mail and negative phone calls as the story has spread online, is working to provide more documentation backing up their story to Throw Away Dogs in the near future.

For Skaziak, finding out exactly what happened to Kanon, who was saved from euthanasia and trained for six months, is a matter of respect.

"He was only 2 years old and he was thrown away and we gave him a second chance and now he's dead, and I don't even have a body to claim to honor him, to respect him," Skaziak said in a passionate Facebook video about the incident. "I made a promise to these dogs, that they would never be thrown away, not even in their death. … He didn't deserve this."

Shelters to Badges

The Throw Away Dogs Project has come a long way from humble roots. Founded in 2014 by Skaziak and SEPTA cop Jason Walters, the group was inspired by the late SEPTA K-9 Winchester, a German Shepherd who came from the shelter to K-9 training.

In the years since, they've attracted national attention, acquired a following of thousands of dog-lovers on social media and have even been featured on Dog Whisperer Cesar Milan's new show, "Dog Nation."

They usually donate to underfunded departments that need the services of a police dog but cannot afford the more-than-$12,000 fees.

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