Honor ceremony pays tribute to fallen search and rescue K-9

(WTHI Photo)

TERRE HAUTE, Ind. (WTHI) – As a K-9 handler, it’s more than just a job title to Robin Stanifer.

“Our K-9s are our partners,” said Stanifer, director and handler for Vigo County Search and Rescue.

When Stanifer crossed paths with Peyton, she knew from the beginning it was something special.

“K-9 Peyton came to Rick and I in 2006,” said Stanifer, “We were brand new to search and rescue.”

K-9 Peyton would become the founding K-9 of Vigo County’s Search and Rescue team. It was a label that members say K-9 Peyton wore quite well.

“It seemed as though when we were out on scene somewhere that K-9s knew Peyton was the dog, he was the lead dog,” said JD Kesler, Deputy Director of Vigo County Emergency Management Agency.

In December 2015, the search and rescue team would suffer a great loss. K-9 Peyton suddenly passed away, leaving a hole within the K-9 community.

“He was our hero and he taught all of us something,” said Stanifer, “We felt like, with the passing of K-9 Peyton, that we wanted to extend the opportunity to other K-9 handlers to honor their fallen heroes.”

Saturday afternoon several public safety departments came together for the K-9 Honor Ceremony. It’s an event dedicated to honoring the service of current, retired and fallen K-9s and handlers. Several K-9s and their handlers from search and rescue, fire and law enforcement were there to attend. The event was put together in tribute to K-9 Peyton.

“We miss him every day,” said Stanifer, “As much as we miss him physically, he’s still here with us.”

While the loss of K-9 Peyton remains difficult to accept, it’s one that continues to bring the search and rescue community closer together.

“In search and rescue, we’re very few, but we’re much,” said Stanifer, “We all come together for a common purpose in finding the lost and the missing.”

This is the first year for the K-9 Honor Ceremony. Organizers hope others will realize the hard work and dedication that the K-9s, as well as their handlers, put in in order to keep their communities safe.

“The unsung heroes are really the handlers that work with the K-9s,” said Kesler.

Kesler says K-9 handlers within search and rescue are 100 percent volunteer based.

“They provide their own funding, resources, everything,” said Kesler, “They buy their own K-9s, the fuel that they spend going to a search and back, it’s all on them. They do it because they have a passion for their community and obviously a love for their K-9 partners.”

Kesler says they hope to continue the honor ceremony for years to come. Next year, they plan to incorporate military K-9s into the event.

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