Working in Gwinnett County Police Department’s K9 unit wasn’t something Sgt. Botsford Finnegan had long dreamed of, nor was it something he had particularly trained for when he started an an officer in 1995.

“I was working uniform patrol before the K9 unit,” Finnegan said, “and it just so happened that we had a couple of positions open in (various) specialized units, the (K9 unit) being one of them. I saw the opening and it was just one of those things that you look at and say, ‘Well that would be kind of interesting’ so I (applied) and was accepted as a handler.”

What Finnegan didn’t know at the time was that working as a handler would change his — and K9 Euro’s — lives.

Last week, after nearly 15 years with the Belgian Malinois, Finnegan and his family said goodbye to Euro, who had long been a member of the family.

Surpassing the average longevity for his breed — Euro was 16 when he died, several years older than the average 12-14 year lifespan for Belgian Malinois’ — Finnegan said the dog was a fighter, both in his career and retirement.

“We went to the vet about a year ago, last February,” Finnegan said. “Euro had congestive heart failure and the vet said he probably only had a few months, but he lived almost another year and turned 16 in October, which, according to the vet, especially for that breed, is almost unheard of. Also having been a working dog, it was a long life.”

Though the reality of Euro’s death is just beginning to set in for Finnegan and his family, he said he hopes to honor Euro for all that he gave to the Finnegans and Gwinnett police.

“My wife and I had a serious discussion about what to do and whether to have a memorial service for him,” Finnegan said. “A lot of times, (police) will basically have an officer’s funeral for K9s, and that was one of our struggles. We went back and forth about it — has it been too long since he’s worked to have that kind of service? Ultimately, we decided he had become more known to us as a family member and pet, but we still want to give him some recognition for his service and want to honor him.”

Euro, who served from 2003 to 2010, was a dual-trained dog, meaning he specialized in both narcotics detection and patrol work as well as search and tracking.

Imported from Holland and brought to Gwinnett from Southern Police Canine, a police dog training organization that Gwinnett Police obtained its dogs from at the time, Euro had a number of successes in his career.

Responding to more than 400 calls and handing 80 patrol and narcotics apprehensions, Euro’s second drug bust yielded 550 pounds of marijuana.

Despite downplaying the find — “it wasn’t sleuth police work, it was just our turn,” Finnegan said, the sergeant emanated pride as he spoke about the dog.

“Euro’s first apprehension was a robbery call where the guy was concealed in drainpipe under a bank parking lot,” Finnegan said. “We had to call tow truck to remove the grate and Euro had to go get him. These dogs — that’s what they do. They go get the (bad) guys so we don’t have to, and we put the dogs in harms way so the officer doesn’t have to take that spot. That’s the reason they’re not just another dog or just another pet.”

That’s also why Finnegan said he did not — and likely will not — serve as a handler for another K9.

“We thought about it but had some hesitation,” Finnegan said. “It was the fact that Euro was still alive and we felt like he deserved our full devotion and that bringing another dog into (our family) would kind of discount his work and kind of say, ‘You’re the dog of yesterday,’ which wouldn’t have been fair. They’re our protectors in a lot of ways and you can’t fully repay that, no matter what you do.”

Finnegan said he and his family tried, however, to give Euro the care he deserved.

“I think what was most difficult in his retired age was his heath,” Finnegan said. “We always think about dogs when they’re working but don’t give a lot thought about what it will be like when they retire, and with Euro’s health being the way it was, it was pretty labor intensive and we always had keep him watched at house and had to check on him and it was a lot of responsibility as a family.

“We always looked at it like he earned it, though, because he did — even though we joked that in his old age, he was kind of like a cantankerous old man.”

Finnegan, now one of the supervisors for Gwinnett’s K9 unit, said if he can impart any wisdom to the handlers he works with, it’s that.

“Yes, we went through all trials and tribulations of taking care of Euro when older, but I feel like I never fully gave back to him what he gave to me and, ultimately, to the department,” Finnegan said. “Now that I’ve kind of lived the entire circle of K9 life, I try to give the handlers words of wisdom: enjoy time you have, because you’ll never be able to give to dogs what they give to us.”

Crime Reporter

Isabel is a crime and health reporter for the Gwinnett Daily Post. She graduated from Emory University in 2016 with a B.A. in international studies. She is originally from the Boston area.