Former Middlebury police canine dies

VERGENNES — Vergennes Police Chief George Merkel this week was mourning the loss of his first police dog, Blade, who had to be euthanized due to rapidly failing health brought on by degenerative myelopathy.
German shepherds, as was Blade, are particularly susceptible to degenerative myelopathy, a progressive disease in the spinal cord in older dogs, Merkel said. It typically begins with the loss of coordination in the hind limbs and often progresses to paralysis.
Merkel inherited Blade, already a seasoned police dog, in 2003 from a Vermont State Police trooper who had been deployed overseas with a National Guard unit. He put Blade to work with the Middlebury Police Department, where Merkel served until being named Vergennes police chief last year. Thanks to contributions from Middlebury-area businesses, Merkel was able to equip a special cruiser in which he and Blade patrolled.
Blade retired in June of 2008, and Merkel continued to care for him at his home as a pet. But Blade’s quality of life continued to fail, to the point where Merkel made the painful decision to have the dog put down this month.
“He had a tough exterior, but inside he was a sweet and loving animal,” Merkel, visibly shaken, said on Tuesday. “He was a great household pet and a hell of a partner.”
Merkel now patrols the city streets with Akido, a police dog he acquired last June.

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