Pointy ears and bushy tails perked up yesterday afternoon when mournful bagpipes broke the silence on a bitter-cold South Jersey soccer field.
As the song "Going Home" traveled through the air, a field full of police K-9 dogs, some from as far as Virginia, all began to whimper and bark as the remains of one of their own, Gloucester Township Police K-9 Schultz, was carried up to a stage.
Hundreds of officers saluted the prized police K-9 killed in the line of duty last week, while hundreds of civilians, including children wrapped in blankets, looked on and wiped tears. The short memorial service was evidence that K-9s are more than pets to the officers who spend every waking hour with them.
"No bond is stronger than a K-9 officer and his dog," Thomas Conroy, former police chief in Stafford Township, told the crowd of about 1,000 in the park.
On Nov. 30, Cpl. Mark Pickard and Schultz, named after Philadelphia Flyers brawler Dave "The Hammer" Schultz, tracked two suspects accused of robbing a Blackwood restaurant to a nearby neighborhood. One, Skyler Robinson, 20, fled, but Schultz caught up, chomped down on his arm and held tight as they struggled.
Police said Robinson, a former standout running back in high school, made his way up an embankment toward busy Route 42 and swung Schultz into the oncoming traffic of the southbound lanes. Pickard wasn't far behind and witnessed his partner's death, police said.
Both Robinson and Schultz were struck by a vehicle, and the 3 1/2-year-old German shepherd died at the scene. Robinson was injured but is now being held in the Camden County Jail, charged with inflicting harm on a law-enforcement animal, which could bring him five years in prison. He also faces charges of animal cruelty, robbery, conspiracy to commit robbery and resisting arrest. An accomplice in the robbery also was arrested but has not been charged in Schultz's death.
One woman at the memorial service yesterday held up a sign suggesting Robinson should run into oncoming traffic: "An eye for an eye," the sign read.
Pickard, his wife and their children sat in the first row of seats as speakers memorialized Schultz's bravery and his off-duty antics at home.
The dog, which lived with the Pickards, liked to lick leftovers from the dishwasher, once chewed a $700 spa cover to pieces, and when competing in K-9 competitions, sometimes made sounds similar to a warthog, Conroy said.
New Jersey state Sen. Fred Madden introduced legislation this week calling for mandatory five-year terms for those convicted of killing police K-9s. Madden, who spent nearly three decades with the State Police, said the bill is long overdue.
"These dogs put their lives on the line for us," Madden said before the ceremony. "Look how much this has affected the community."