Illinois police dog comforts grief over loss of master

As his annual employee review approaches, Winston has a lock on “exceeding expectations.”

Consider that since December, the Chocolate Labrador has had to graduate from a dog therapy school, move from sweet Florida to the cold of Champaign County, start a new job, acclimatize to loving strangers, and then be brutal. deprived of his work partner and his master 24/7.

And since University of Illinois Police Lieutenant Aaron Landers died in a traffic accident seven weeks ago, Winston has had to return to work comforting the people who brought him here to help. the others, reports The News-Gazette.

“He was pretty moody for a few days after the (funeral) services,” said Dee Landers, Lt. Landers’ widow. “Once the services were over and we were all alone at home, he realized there was something different.

“He went through a period where he had problems. A few days after we put him back to work he was coming back, ”said Lt. Tim Hetrick, now designated as Winston’s working partner. “And he’s back to his old self. He loves coming to work and interacting with people.

If only grief was apparently so easy for humans to handle.

As a tribute to their husband and father, Lieutenant Landers’ family reflected on what was best for Winston.

“Chef (Alice) Cary and I had a conversation,” said his widow. “She said,” You can buy Winston for a dollar and it’s yours and no hard feelings. Or we can find something he can come to work for a few days a week.

Married for 27 years to the man she met when they worked together at the K’s Merchandise Mart in Champaign in 1992, she already knew the answer.

“I told the kids about it,” Dee said. “We kind of decided that Winston liked going to work, and that’s what Aaron wanted him to do. They (Alex and Keira) just asked: Can we have it in writing that he is living with us and going to work? Immediately, the chief contented himself with putting it in a general order.

And so began the journey for the return of a family to normal, whatever it is, without their patriarch. Back to college for Alex, back to college for Keira, and back to Masters of Nursing classes for Dee while working full time at the Carle Foundation Hospital.

And back to the UI Police Department for Winston.

Hetrick, who lives in Vermilion County, walks past the Landers’ house in St. Joseph at around 6:30 a.m. and takes Winston to the office, a house across the street north of the police department, the same place where he. went with Lt. Landers.

About a week ago, Hetrick was promoted to lieutenant after 19 years in the UI police force and 10 years earlier as a Danville police officer.

Cary, who, according to Dee Landers, “has a really good way of looking at people and capitalizing on their strengths,” selected Hetrick to lead the outreach and community support team that Lt. Landers had been chosen. to lead about a year earlier.

It was a job that perfectly matched the master’s degree in social work that Lieutenant Landers obtained from IU in 2016. At 50 and 24 in the IU Police, he was delighted to put his vision to work. , his wife mentioned.

The team is making inroads into the co-responder policing model. Social workers are partnered with agents trained in crisis intervention in hopes of achieving more positive results on calls involving people with mental health crises.

Therapy dogs are only part of the team equation, but certainly a very attractive part of the public.

When Cary sent Lt. Landers to Florida in December to Paws and Stripes School “just to observe” the training of therapy dogs, Dee Landers said she had a good idea that her husband would not return home alone. House.

“Chief Cary will never admit that she sent him there to look for a dog, but that could have been her subconscious agenda,” she said, adding that she and the children did not opposed to a new family member.

Hetrick said he believed Cary had chosen him to fill Lt. Landers’ vacant post in part because he had been in charge of K-9 for most of his law enforcement career and that he was the department’s K-9 supervisor.

“I am honored to pick up where Aaron left off and I hope I can do him justice and make him proud,” Hetrick said. “It’s a great company, and he did a great job.”

Regarding his new job responsibilities, Hetrick said that partnering with Winston was “100% the easiest part for me”.

“He’s just fun to be around and puts everyone in a good mood when he’s in the room and that’s really probably the best part of my job right now,” Hetrick said. “I think I’ve only missed one day (having it) since we started this arrangement and will miss one this week due to a packed schedule of meetings.”

It’s not because Winston can’t handle the meetings.

“We find that if we’re going to get the attention of the people we meet, we probably have to leave Winston out of that,” Hetrick said. “They don’t care what we have to say after seeing the dogs.”

Dee Landers said Hetrick drops Winston off on his way home from work and if no one is there he has the garage door code to get in. The other Landers dog, Bonnie, a 6 year old Belgian-Malinois mix, is there to greet Winston. Both animals are feeling the loss of Lieutenant Landers, she said.

“They play, eat and sleep in the same room,” she said. “Sometimes they even get up on the couch together.”

Dee Landers is grateful to Hetrick for helping his family through this terrible part of their life.

Lt. Landers and his wife are both children of cops, so they and their children are more in tune than most with the sense of extended family that permeates law enforcement.

Days after Keira’s recent birthday, her first since her father’s death, members of the explosive ordnance team her father had led brought her a cake and gifts.

“It was one of the first times she had a happy moment,” Dee Landers said. “I selfishly gravitate towards the people in the department who knew him really well.”

For example, she recently attended one of the “COAST cooks” that Aaron instituted for senior commanding officers to prepare breakfast for the base.

“I took Winston for the last COAST cook and kinda hung out and helped with that,” she said. “It’s that tangible part of him that exists. Just being able to be there and be around these people. There are a few who have never left me. I see them as brothers and sisters and I am ready to support them as they need to be supported. It just won’t change.

After nearly three decades with her “soul mate and best friend,” Dee Landers had mastered her character well.

“Aaron has always been the type of leader who never sought recognition,” she said. “It was more about helping those around him to be successful and achieve their goals and make them better because he knew that true leaders do that.

“He had a vision for the direction police services could take and the changes that could be made that could benefit everyone, especially when it comes to mental health,” she added. “He has taught critical incident training statewide. It was one of his passions. The more he could help people help others, the more he found it very rewarding and a way to make an impact on the police as a whole.

“Having the model he was working on at the user interface made a lot of sense. Part of my job now is to follow the line of his legacy, with Tim and Chef Cary and the people of the COAST house, to work to keep this going. “

And Winston, of course.

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