Even if the search for K9 Officer "Chase" yields little or nothing, Greg Powers says he'll keep plugging away, like a detective, until the missing canine is found dead or alive and brought home to Chapmanville, West Virginia.
It's become something of an obsession with him.
"I've been after this since day one," said Mr. Powers of South Charleston, West Virginia, a member of the Facebook group "Justice for K9 Officer Chase."
"It's stuck with me. I've been relentlessly trying to find out what's going on," he said.
Chase, a 6-year-old Belgian Malinois with the Chapmanville Police Department, was reported missing in South Charleston by his rookie police handler, 26-year-old Marcus Dudley in early April.
Since then, Mr. Powers has spoken at town meetings and made public inquiries hoping to learn anything that might determine the dog's condition and whereabouts.
Strange DisappearanceThe circumstances surrounding Chase's disappearance seem as perplexing as the police report of his former partner Mr. Dudley, according to investigators handling the case.
On April 11, Mr. Dudley, who also lives in South Charleston called local police to report that Chase had vanished after jumping over a backyard fence.
South Charleston (population 13,352) is a city in Kanawha County in the western part of West Virginia about 48 miles north of Chapmanville (population 1,025) in Logan County.
As South Charleston detectives dug further into the missing K9 case, they determined there were inconsistencies in Mr. Dudley's statements that warranted pressing charges.
"From day one," Chapmanville officials wrote on social media, the town and police department have cooperated with South Charleston police in investigating "our missing K-9, Chase."
"The town and its police department are hopeful that the actions of the Kanawha County Grand Jury will help to shed light on this unfortunate situation and ultimately obtain justice for Chase."
On Aug. 4, a grand jury handed up six misdemeanor indictments against Mr. Dudley. Among them were filing a false emergency report, making false statements, obstructing an officer, and animal cruelty.
He was let go from the department after serving less than a year—less than a month as a K9 officer.
At his arraignment on Aug. 28, a judge set cash bail at $6,000. However, Mr. Dudley reportedly could not pay the amount and currently sits in the South Central Regional Jail in Charleston awaiting trial on Oct. 15.
Since Chase's disappearance, sympathy and support for the beloved canine have poured in from across the country.
Although the evidence against his former handler remains, for the most part, circumstantial, "I've been on this like a pit bull. I won't let loose," Mr. Powers told The Epoch Times.
"I can't explain it other than I just can't [let go]."
Unlike more progressive states, he said people in West Virginia tend to view their police officers with admiration and respect. It doesn't matter if an officer has two legs or four.
"It's not this defund the police, hate the blue. If I see one of them out, I'll stop and buy them dinner. I respect what our officers do," Mr. Powers said.
"When I see Chase, he's no different. Bottom line: he's a police officer."
Former West Virginia resident and Justice for K9 Chase founder Kim Asbury lives in Illinois but says the case has dogged her since Chase vanished six months ago.
"I think the only one who knows what happened is Officer Dudley. And he's not talking," she told The Epoch Times. "It's a big, big mystery."
"I'm all about innocent until proven guilty," Ms. Asbury added, "but I wish he would just end it and tell everyone what happened. If it was an accident, it was an accident."
The Epoch Times could not reach Chapmanville Police Chief Alan Browning, Assistant Prosecutor Josh Gainer, or Mr. Dudley's attorney, Joseph Harvey for this story.
In the meantime, Ms. Asbury's 6,000-member strong Facebook group supports passage of "Chase's Law"—proposed state legislation that would make K9 abuse a felony crime instead of a misdemeanor in West Virginia.
Not An Isolated CaseDaphna Nachminovitch is senior vice president of the Cruelty Investigations Department for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) in Virginia.
During the past 26 years she's been with the organization, she said she has never witnessed a case involving a police K9 gone missing.
"How do you lose a K9?" Ms. Nachminovitch said. "My brain is always in a worst-case scenario because of my profession. I assume that something terrible happened to this dog. Dogs don't vanish into thin air."
Ms. Nachminovitch said because no national standards exist governing the care, acquisition, or placement of police dogs in departments, it's the problem begging for a solution.
Title 18 U.S. Code 1368 makes it a crime to harm animals used in federal law enforcement. It is punishable by a year in prison and up to 10 years if the offense "permanently disables or disfigures the animal, or causes serious bodily injury to or the death of the animal."
New York Penal Law 195.06 makes killing a police dog or workhorse a Class E felony with a maximum sentence of four years in prison, including fines and community service.
Though the disappearance of Chase appears to be an "anomaly," she said it calls attention to the importance of proper dog and handler training.
"We do see some people put in a position to be a K9 handler who haven't bonded with those dogs—who regard these dogs as a status symbol and prestige. Being a K9 handler—that's an impressive title. It looks cool," she said.
"For some people, it's not that they're a dog person. They like the idea of being a K9 handler [but] there's no way to quantify that."
Using the Bureau of Labor Statistics and U.S. Census data, career expert Zippia.com estimates 205,370 K9 police officers currently employed in the United States. The vast majority, 93.4 percent, are men, with an average age of 39.
The website adds that K9 police officers are 47 percent more likely to work at private companies than at government agencies.
In 2021, 21 police canines died in the line of duty from assault, gunfire, illness, training accidents, and other causes, as reported on the Officer Down Memorial Page. But the leading cause of death among law enforcement dogs is heat exhaustion, according to The Bark magazine.
"It's fair to say most officers that have K9s understand the responsibility and respect that. I do hate those officers to get a bad name," Ms. Nachminovitch said. "We would certainly want federal law to protect [K9s] with some standard prohibiting cruel training."
Right to KnowIn a June 21 social media post, Chapmanville attorney Rob Kuenzel addressed questions from the public regarding Chase's disappearance.
"From the beginning, no evidence has been disclosed that would indicate that anything relating to Chase's disappearance occurred in Chapmanville," he wrote.
"In criminal law, charges must be filed in the city, county [or] state wherein the alleged crime occurred."
Since the U.S. Constitution protects citizens against self-incrimination, "the government cannot force" Mr. Dudley to testify against himself, Mr. Kuenzel added.
"Accordingly, the town of Chapmanville does not want to take any action that would jeopardize any potential prosecution.
"As a dog lover and owner, I too am frustrated that Chase remains missing; yet, as one who works within the legal field, I understand that there is a process that must be followed."
Rockhouse K9 in Chapmanville reportedly is offering a $500 reward for the safe return of Chase.
Chase initially served as a marijuana detection dog with a school resource officer in Virginia until the state legalized cannabis in 2021. The handler later was forced to give up the dog due to his son's severe allergies.
The Chapmanville Police Department acquired Chase in 2022 for its new K9 unit. The dog received routine patrol coaching from a local canine trainer and joined the department in March.
Former Officer Dudley had Chase in his custody about three weeks before reporting him missing.
"Neither the town of Chapmanville nor the Chapmanville Police Department has any knowledge of whether the K-9, Chase, is alive or not," Mr. Kuenzel told Mr. Powers in a letter prompted by a Freedom Of Information Act (FOIA) request.
“To his knowledge, the town attorney said the K9 did not have an implanted microchip for identification, which is only beneficial if someone found Chase.
"It does not serve as a real-time tracker," he said.
"It has been unclear if the breeder installed the chip," Mr. Powers added. "In all of my FOIA requests requesting info from Virginia and [West Virginia], no number has ever turned up."
The Chapmanville department is still working on a K9 policy and procedures manual aligned with the sheriff's office program in Logan County.