LOCAL FOLKS: Tupelo police dog heads into retirement

By Michaela Gibson Morris/NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – His hair hasn’t gone gray yet, but Paco is hanging up his badge after six years of tracking suspects, sniffing out drugs and finding the lost.
The Tupelo police dog didn’t get a fancy collar or a steak dinner upon his retirement, but he was recognized before the City Council last Tuesday. A fancy collar or a big meal wouldn’t mean much to the 81⁄2-year-old black Belgian Malinois, said his handler, Tupelo Police K9 Officer Jay Johnson. Paco’s favorite thing is a big ball on the rope.
“I’ll throw it, and he’ll bring it back,” Johnson said. “It’s all about the toy.”
Over the course of his career, Paco has done it all – searching out controlled substances, apprehending suspects and finding the lost. In addition to helping the police department execute narcotics search warrants and narcotics arrests, Paco’s credited with tracking down four armed robbery suspects, four business burglary suspects and six residential burglary suspects, one mentally ill person who had wandered away from home and one disoriented vehicle crash victim.
“He’s one of the best tracking dogs we’ve got,” said Johnson, who noted that some of Paco’s tracks have gone for more than a mile. “Tracking is what he likes.”
Paco was originally trained by Lt. Stacy Walker, who now oversees North Mississippi Narcotics. He’s been with Johnson for about a year, as Johnson learned the ropes as a K9 officer.
“He knew what his job was,” said Johnson, who has started working with a young dog for the Tupelo department. “That makes it a lot easier on a new handler.”
Paco taught him how to watch for subtle shifts in a dog’s body language during a track, Johnson said.
“You know when you’re getting close to a suspect by the way the dog reacts,” Johnson said.
Paco, who will live out his retirement with Johnson’s family, has a softer side off duty. He’s a favorite of Johnson’s 5-year-old daughter Kiley.
“My little girl loves him to death,” Johnson said. “He’s great with her.”
Sadly, Paco may not have much time to enjoy retirement. Paco has developed congestive heart failure, which precipitated his retirement.
“He’s still got the desire to go and do,” but he’s not as energetic as he once was, Johnson said.
michaela.morris@journalinc.com