The first day Solon police Officer Matt Troyer met his canine partner Stryker, the German shepherd led him around on a walk.
“There was no obedience at that point,” Mr. Troyer recalled. The two were just getting to know one another.
What developed over the next six weeks was intensive training, but more importantly what grew over the next nine years was a bond that can’t be broken.
“He never leaves my side,” said Mr. Troyer, 47. “I’m with him more than my family so you can imagine the bond over the years.”
Ten-year-old Stryker, a dual purpose police K-9 officer trained in tracking illegal drugs and conducting searches, will retire next month. He will live out his remaining years with Mr. Troyer and his family in their Chester Township home.
Mr. Troyer is purchasing him for $1 from the city.
His retirement follows a career that includes both solving crimes and protecting Mr. Troyer and fellow officers along the way.
From tracking suspects involved in domestic violence and bank robberies to sniffing out illegal drugs and guns, Stryker has done it all, including saving his handler from harm.
Mr. Troyer recalled a particular incident where an outside agency enlisted the help of Stryker and Mr. Troyer for a series of carjacking incidents. At one point, Mr. Troyer was tracking the last known direction of a suspect with a gun and it wasn’t until he saw Stryker’s behavior changing, that he realized the armed suspect was hidden in the cat tails.
“I was able to prepare myself and told my back up,” Mr. Troyer said.
In another incident, Stryker, who weighs in at 80 pounds, was able to pick up the scent of a suspect who had changed clothing during the pursuit. “It was pretty awesome,” Mr. Troyer said of how Stryker helped solve the crime.
Stryker has received multiple awards from the German Shepherd Club for his crime fighting and his work with missing people, article search and tracking of fleeing suspects.
Mr. Troyer said the majority of his deployments were illegal narcotic searches, with which he had overwhelming success.
“He is a force multiplier,” Mr. Troyer said of Stryker’s role. “He is able to diffuse the situation usually by his presence or a little barking before anything necessarily escalates.
“That’s pretty valuable,” Mr. Troyer said. “People see a dog and back down.”
As a result, it makes the police’s job that much safer, Mr. Troyer continued.
Stryker was also instrumental in the public relations aspect of the law enforcement field, regularly visiting the Solon schools and meeting with students.
“Those are some of my favorite times with him,” Mr. Troyer said, “just hanging out at the high school and the kids petting him, especially the special needs kids.
“There is this special connection that he has,” Mr. Troyer said. “Teachers say it’s so nice to see kids smile.”
Mr. Troyer said that his time with Stryker has been a highlight of his career to date. He joined the Solon Police Department 21 years ago, deciding in 2010 to become a handler. He didn’t know what to expect with the experience, he recalled.
“I love working with animals, but had never done it before,” Mr. Troyer said.
During the interview process, Mr. Troyer met with handlers from outside agencies to explain the process. He also discussed it with his family, including wife Kathryn, a police officer, and two daughters, because of the commitment involved.
“It was a huge commitment in the early years because you are doing a lot of extra training on your own,” Mr. Troyer said, “but it has been equally rewarding and demanding at the same time.”
Stryker came to the United States from Slovakia at the age of 1.
“He is so social,” Mr. Troyer said, “until told not to be.”
Most of his commands are in Czechoslovakian, and Mr. Troyer’s police car is especially outfitted for his canine partner. “He’s a police officer, and everyone treats him like one.”
At home, alongside Mr. Troyer’s family dog Daisy, a boxer, Stryker is “very chilled out.
“He’s able to make the switch,” Mr. Troyer said. “It’s amazing.”
He sleeps on the floor next to Mr. Troyer’s bedside. “I love him,” Mr. Troyer said. “It’s a special bond, especially when you go through things that can be dangerous.”
It is uncertain whether the city will replace Stryker at this time.
“He’s retiring because it’s time,” Mr. Troyer said, noting that most canine officers work eight to 10 years. “His health is great.”
“I don’t know how he is going to take me leaving to go to work,” and the feeling is mutual, Mr. Troyer said. “It will be lonely not having someone to talk to.
“He does a lot of listening,” Mr. Troyer said.
“But he does deserve to rest and maybe get a couple treats from the table,” Mr. Troyer added with a laugh.