Sandra La Porta fell in love with Lakos the first time she saw him through the bars of his cage.
Lakos was a German shepherd puppy when they met in 2001. La Porta was a Chicago drug cop who had just joined the canine unit. She says that when she saw Lakos' small, black olive nose sticking through the bars, "He looked scared. He wanted someone to love him."
They went through training and became partners — Starsky and Hutch without car chases.
La Porta would bring Lakos to the scene of a search and say, "Fetch dope!" Lakos would sniff wherever he got a whiff of narcotics, hidden in floors, sofas, ceilings and toilets. Chicago police estimate that Lakos sniffed out $1.4 million worth of drugs, and over $2.1 million in drug-stained cash.
Duty often brought them to mean, scary places. Lakos and La Porta searched a drug den in 2003 when two pit bulls leapt on them. One of the dogs had Lakos by the tail; Lakos bit him in his face. When the other went for La Porta, Lakos leapt with lethal force onto his neck.
Several weeks ago, Lakos and La Porta got mugged by a 95-pound Rottweiler, the canine equivalent of Mike Tyson. But it was the Rottweiler who whimpered in retreat, not Lakos.
"Limping, bleeding, tooth missing, he kept going," La Porta told me. "He's my hero."
Yet when she brought Lakos home at night, he was a gentle pet. She and her husband took Lakos to police holiday parties, where children pet him, kiss him and pull his tail as they pose for pictures with the Easter Bunny, Santa Claus and Lakos the Police Dog. They took him to visit families of police officers who have been killed in the line of duty.
"Their kids are too hurt to talk," La Porta says. "They just hold on to Lakos. I have no children," she adds. "It just never happened. But I believe that God gave Lakos to me so that we could take care of each other."
La Porta has spent 31 years on the job. If a single year of a dog's life is reckoned to amount to 4 to 10 human years, a cop who's been on the beat for 31 years must feel like she's worked for a century.
And Lakos has arthritis, which hinders his walk. He can still sniff out drugs but has become more vulnerable on the mean streets they must prowl.
So this week, La Porta and Lakos both retired from the Chicago Police Department.
"He's worked six days a week, 10 hours a day, never knowing what you'll run into," she says. "So me and my husband are just going to take care of Lakos. Let him enjoy life, have fun, like a regular dog. He's worked hard," La Porta says. "He deserves it."
Sounds like they deserve each other.