When he talks about Zero, the veteran K-9 who was one of Camden's most beloved police officers, one story looms largest for Lt. Zsakhiem James.

He and Zero were chasing a stabbing suspect through an old house, and James, Zero's handler, slipped on a pool of blood. As the suspect ran outside, James had just enough time to grab the front door and hold it open. Zero jumped through it, tackled the man, and held him down until James could get the cuffs on.

"We went through so many things together," said James, Zero's handler since 2007. "He was a hard worker."

Zero, who at 12 was Camden's oldest police dog, died Monday night at home. James said he believes Zero died in his sleep.

On Tuesday morning, James brought Zero to the Rothman animal hospital in Collingswood. He was escorted by K-9 officers who came from around the county to salute their colleague.

A German shepherd originally from the Czech Republic, Zero joined the Camden Police Department in 2007. At the time, he was the department's first K-9 officer in more than a decade. He lived with James and his family in Camden. When the Camden force was disbanded and replaced by the Camden County Police Department, James and Zero moved to the new unit.

"He was a family dog when he was home," he said. "My kids walked him, and when they told him to go in his crate, he did."

Zero was also one of the most active officers on the force. He set the state record for criminal apprehensions made by a K-9 officer, 68, and won numerous awards. Over the years he survived a fall through a ceiling, cuts to his paws and face, kicks and punches, and poisoning, after he discovered drugs hidden beneath a bottle of antifreeze.

"He set the standard for what dogs are able to accomplish in our department," James said.

For every suspect Zero chased down, James rewarded him with his favorite treat: a 20-piece meal of chicken nuggets from McDonald's.

Zero also became a celebrity among Camden's children, and was perhaps best known for his frequent visits to schools and community events, where he was always happy to receive pets and belly rubs. James taught him a "cute and cuddly" command, prompting him to roll on his back and flop his tongue out.

"To see him build a partnership with the community was amazing," James said. "He bridged a divide that was there. He was an integral part of our community policing."


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