He was good at his job, valuable to the police department, but a sociable and sweet K-9, too.
Sando, a favorite with the Greenfield Police Department and in the community he served, passed away May 20, when he was believed to be more than 14 years old.
James and Lisa James Leeth, Sando’s owners, aren’t sure of his exact age. They estimated him to be around 5 years old when James Leeth took over as handler of Sando from the Sugarcreek Township Police Department in 2010. He said the Belgian Malinois did not come with documentation of his age.
Leeth and Sando became certified locally that year, then in 2011 became state certified. The state certification training was paid for by the AmVets at Rocky Fork Lake, James Leeth said, since there was no money in the police budget for Greenfield at the time for the training.
For the next four or so years, wherever James Leeth went on duty, there Sando went, too.
The Leeths and Greenfield Police Chief Jeremiah Oyer have referred to Sando as a “good PR dog.” He was popular in Greenfield, to the preschool children he would visit and the businesses that made sure to have treats for him when he came by with James Leeth. At the police department, he was allowed to roam freely.
“Sando was very social and could be around anybody, but he still did his job well.” Oyer said. “He was a great all-around dog,” adding that sort of K-9 is a rarity.
“Sando was a tremendous asset to the department,” he said.
“He was a different sort of dog. We could take him anywhere. He was approachable, social,” James Leeth said. “But when it was time to go to work, he knew what to do. It was like a switch flipped.”
James Leeth talked about a night when he was on patrol, the only officer out, and he came upon people in the act of stealing. It was just him and Sando against whatever was to come. One guy took off on foot and Sando ran him down, but did not touch him because James Leeth had “recalled” the dog. But he said Sando kept the person right where they were while James Leeth took the other person into custody.
Both Sando and James Leeth received a letter of commendation from then-Greenfield City Manager Betty Bishop.
That night, if it wasn’t for Sando, he never would have made an arrest, let alone two, James Leeth said.
He also talked about Sando’s part in helping seize a drug house in Greenfield and his work on multiple felony drug cases.
“He did a lot of good in Greenfield,” James Leeth said, “and was instrumental in helping us get search warrants.”
Clearly, Sando was good at his job, but he was also good at being naughty.
One time when Oyer and James Leeth were on duty during a holiday, Oyer’s mother brought the men food from a family barbecue. As Oyer sat down preparing to eat his hamburgers, he was called away from his desk. When he came back, the tops buns, and only the top buns, were missing from his sandwiches. Everything else remained, even the meat.
Oyer said he thought James Leeth was messing with him, and it took some convincing on his part for Oyer to believe him. So the guilt lay with Sando, the only other possible suspect.
James Leeth said there was another officer that Sando would have daily squabbles with over food. The K-9 was also caught eating inmates’ lunches. However, there were those who gave their food willingly, James Leeth said. The dispatcher would often share her lunch with the dog. And former Police Chief Tim Hester had a treat drawer in his desk just for Sando.
Upon his retirement in 2014, Sando would have been around 10 years old, and his age was starting to get to him, particularly in his hips, the Leeths said.
“When he retired, you could feel the loss in the department,” Oyer said.
After his retirement, Sando enjoyed a good and loving home life and just being a dog with the Leeth family.
He was called back a few months into retirement to visit some children, James Leeth said. And there was one time a couple years ago when the Leeths’ house was broken into and they came home to find Sando pinned in the living room, having eaten part of a couch to get at the criminals. The Leeths said there was a trail of blood drops to the back door, indicating that someone up to no good left with a souvenir from the Leeths’ fierce protector.
But at home, both before and after retirement, for the most part, “he was a normal dog,” Lisa Leeth said. He was very lovable, she said, and enjoyed naps with his “best buddy,” Sosa the pug.
James Leeth has not been in full-time law enforcement for some time, and now works for the Ohio Department of Natural Resources. He has felt the distance from all the people in that line of work that he was once close to. But since Sando’s passing, James Leeth said there has been an “outpouring” from that law enforcement community he thought he had lost touch with.
The Leeths expressed their gratitude to Dr. Rob Sharp of Hillsboro Veterinary Hospital for caring for Sando while he was in service, and to Dr. Huntsman of the Highland County Veterinary Hospital for caring for Sando at the end. They are also grateful to the Thompson Funeral Home for coming to their home to get Sando and returning his cremains to them in an urn, all free of charge because he was a service dog.
James Leeth was with Sando 24/7 when they worked, and their bond was strong.
“They were partners until the last breath,” Lisa Leeth said, describing their last night with Sando, all of them on the floor of the garage together as Sando just couldn’t make it into the house. And as they lay there on a makeshift bed, Sando’s front paws were wrapped around James’ arm, as if holding onto him.
“I have a lot of good memories, a lot of good times,” James Leeth said. “He was a special dog.”
Angela Shepherd is a correspondent for the Village of Greenfield.