It’s going to be strange for Columbia County sheriff’s Deputy Scott Zimmerman to go to work without his trusted partner, canine officer Boz, after nearly six years together.
Boz, an 8-year-old Belgian malinois, died unexpectedly from bloat early Tuesday while in his kennel at Zimmerman’s home. Bloat is a sudden and often fatal build-up of gas in the stomach.
“That’s going to be tough,” Zimmerman said. “I spent more time with him than I did anybody else, wife and kid combined.”
Zimmerman has been Boz’s handler since the dog joined the sheriff’s office Canine Unit in October 2006. He’d always expected that Boz would die after his retirement or in the line of duty, not in the safety of his kennel.
Boz, more formally known as Sgt. Bas, was one of six dogs in the unit. He was trained to detect narcotics, clear buildings, perform searches and vehicle extractions, track, and protect his human partner.
As a tracker, Boz used his sensitive nose to follow the scent of suspects of a crime, or to find lost people or items used as evidence.
In 2011, Boz found the gun used to fatally shoot 14-year-old Alana Calahan inside her Harlem home. After investigators spent several hours looking for the weapon, Boz took Zimmerman to the 9-mm handgun buried under pinestraw in the woods. Calahan’s 14-year-old neighbor was subsequently arrested and convicted.
“Their ability to track is extremely valuable to us,” Sheriff Clay Whittle said, adding that when not working, Boz was as lovable as a house pet.
Teams like Boz and Zimmerman are on duty 24 hours a day to help deputies on the street. They are often called to traffic stops, many on Interstate 20, where drugs are suspected.
“(Boz) is going to be missed; there’s no doubt about that,” Whittle said.
Zimmerman said Boz was a high-energy, high-drive dog who loved to work, especially the bite work.
After training exercises, then responding to a call for an extended track in deep woods, Zimmerman said he and his exhausted partner headed to what would be one of his favorite calls with Boz.
Armed robbers ran away from a convenience store near I-20. The pair found a footprint, a starting point to track. Boz led deputies to the doorstep of the robbers, who were also smoking marijuana.
“Lo and behold, there’s the clothes they wore, the masks they had, the bag they made the clerk put the money in as well as (rolls of coins),” Zimmerman said. “We had nothing to go on at that point and he ended up solving that one right off the bat.”
Zimmerman took Boz to work daily and on special assignments, where the dog was always popular.
“He was a real sociable dog,” Zimmerman said. “He wasn’t a man-eater or anything. He was kind of like a mascot, if you will. He was real social and loved to be petted.”
When Boz wasn’t working, he was a family pet.
“He was a member of the family, no doubt,” Zimmerman said, adding that Boz’s death is hard on his wife and he’s still trying to figure out how to explain it to his 2-year-old son.
Zimmerman had Boz cremated Wednesday and hasn’t yet decided what he’ll do with the remains. He’s considering some sort of living memorial.