SCOTT SIMON, host:
Sandra LaPorta 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. Sandra LaPorta was a Chicago drug cop who'd just joined the canine unit. She says that when she saw Lakos's 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. Officer LaPorta would bring Lakos to the scene of a search and say, fetch dope. Lakos would snip 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 Officer LaPorta 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 the face. When the other came at Sandra LaPorta, Lakos leapt with lethal force into his neck.
Several weeks ago, Lakos and Officer LaPorta 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, Sandra LaPorta 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, 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, says Sandra LaPorta; they just hold onto 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.
Officer LaPorta has spent 31 years on the job. If a single year of a dog's life is reckoned to amount to four to 10 human years, a cop who's been on the beat for 31 years must feel like she's worked a century. And Lakos has arthritis, which hinders his walk. He can still sniff out drugs, but he's become more vulnerable on the mean streets they must prowl. So this week, Sandra LaPorta 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, says Sandra LaPorta. He deserves it. Sounds like they deserve each other.
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