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The top dog is back

Photo Credit: REVIEW, TIDINGS PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - The K-9 unit of the Lake Oswego Police Department is back to full strength with the return of Kai to action. The main beneficiary is Kias handler, Officer Bryan McMahon

Kai the police dog might be the king of canine charisma.

That seemed evident at his recent appearance at the Lake Oswego Farmers’ Market. First a ripple of excitement went through the crowd as Lake Oswego Police Officer Bryan McMahon led Kai to the busiest spot of the market, and then a sea of hands reached out to pat, rub and scratch the big German shepherd. Kai handled this outpouring of love and admiration with his usual aplomb. After all, he gets treated like this everywhere he goes.

But the demonstration at the farmers market was special because Kai was returning to action after eight months of convalescence from four operations — two knee replacements and two hernia operations.

Kai had been greatly missed. The big dog has been a goodwill ambassador for the police department, representing the warm and fuzzy side of law enforcement. His size is at first intimidating, but his friendly, furry face and sweet nature instantly makes friends out of the delighted children who approach him.

But even more than Lake Oswego’s dog-loving public, Kai was missed by the police department, where he had been a key member of the K-9 unit for the past seven years. His scorecard is impressive: 87 bad guys tracked down. When Kai chases a crook on the loose he is all business; leaping, bounding and using his incredible nose to find the runaway bad guy, and when the wrongdoer, is cornered Kai starts ferociously barking. His barking is so effective that bad guys are too scared to put up any arguments, and McMahon has never had to use the attack command.

Kai is so good at his job that in 2011 he won the Top Dog Award in an annual competition held by the Washington County Sheriff’s Office.

“The officers love him,” McMahon said. “He makes it a lot safer for their work and their tracking. Kai helps set up a containment area. Otherwise, we have to chase the bad guy.”

But even super dogs break down, and late last year McMahon noticed that the 9-year-old dog was starting to slip.

“A police dog is like a professional athlete,” McMahon said. “Kai has had a lot of wear and tear. He jumps 6-foot fences, runs over hills and climbs stairs.

“I could see that his knees were wobbly and that he was not walking normally. I’m always watching him to see how he’s walking and moving.”

A trip to the vet resulted in the unwelcome news that Kai needed not just one but two knee replacements, and his sterling career on the K-Unit might likely be over. But Kai had a friend in LOPD Chief Don Johnson.

“Chief Johnson loves our K-9 program,” McMahon said. “He said we would get Kai’s knees fixed no matter what. He said that with all of the service Kai has done that he deserved a happy retirement.”

That left the decision on whether there should be surgery on both of Kai’s knees at the same time or in succession. It was decided to have both operations performed at the same time so Kai’s recovery time would be cut in half.

But being on the sidelines was an ordeal for a dog that loves his work. To allow healing from his operations, Kai was forced to spend two 60-day stretches of being confined in a kennel where he was not allowed to move. Fortunately, Kai had a great caregiver in McMahon. During the many weeks the dog was not allowed to move, McMahon would carry the 95-pound German shepherd wherever he needed to go. When Kai was able to convalesce at home, McMahon would get up four or five times every night to check on the dog’s condition.

Instead of bristling with energy and alertness, Kai was one tired and sore puppy.

“One time when Kai came out of surgery he plopped his head on my lap,” McMahon said. “He had never done that before. He slept the whole way home.”

Thankfully, Kai healed so well that he is able to rejoin the K-9 unit. His back legs are a little bit curved right now because he is coming off two knee operations, but he is well on his way to returning to top form. His reflexes already look sharp, from the way he jumps around after his beloved blue rubber ball.

Now, Lake Oswego is a safer place, and everyone is overjoyed to see Kai back on the job.

Except for the bad guys, of course.

Contact Cliff Newell at 503-636-1281 ext. 105 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .



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