A California police dog who was shot as he protected his handler during the search for a gunman wanted in connection with a homicide was released Tuesday night from an animal hospital after recovering from surgery.
Reiko, a 2-year-old Belgian Malinois and member of the West Covina Police Department, walked out of the Animal Specialty Group hospital, sniffed a statue of a dog outside the exit and headed home. His handler credited Reiko, who joined the department in December, with saving his life.
"For him to jump in there and take that bullet, it's just amazing," said Officer Bryan Rodriguez. "He saved myself and my partners. He did something a lot of guys wouldn't do."
Reiko was part of a search for a suspect wanted in a shooting death Sunday outside a West Covina church. Witnesses directed officers to a nearby neighborhood, where a man who matched the gunman's description was found on the roof of a house.
"The suspect jumped down off the roof onto the driveway, at which time one of our officers -- who was a canine handler -- deployed the dog," said Cpl. Rudy Lopez. "Once the dog got up to the suspect, the suspect fired a round in the direction of both the dog and the officers."
The round struck Reiko and officers returned fire, killing the gunman at the scene in the 1500 block of Elgenia Street. Rodriguez said he knew Reiko had been struck by a round because he could hear the dog make a "yip" sound.
"He stayed strong, he stayed in the fight," said Rodriguez. "I recalled him back toward me, and when he was coming toward me he was obviously limping and bleeding."
Reiko was transported to TLC Pet Medical Center in South Pasadena and immediately taken into emergency surgery. Doctors removed a bullet "lodged dangerously close" to his spine, according to a statement from the West Covina Police Department.
Once the dog's condition stabilized, he was transported to a trauma specialist at Animal Specialty Group to begin recovery.
"He's definitely my best friend," said Rodriguez. "I just can't wait to get him back home and start taking care of him. Hopefully, it will be a good, fast rehabilitation process and we'll be back on the streets together."
Reiko could be back on patrol in three or four month if his recovery goes well, Rodriguez said.
Reiko is the department's first community-purchased dog. He was acquired by the department after contributions from business and residents.