K-9 Rocket remembered for years of service

DFC Bowden and Rocket

Rocket died a moment after looking up to make sure his family was safe.

The 11-year-old retired Wicomico County Sheriff’s Office K-9 patrol dog was lying in the yard last Saturday. When he saw his owner’s wife arrive home, Rocket, like the Bowden family’s other two dogs, lifted his head to be sure all was well.

Then, the German shepherd, who was involved in thousands of arrests before his retirement, rested his head and drew a final  breath, the victim of aging.

The long-time partner of Deputy 1st Class Howard Bowden of Sharptown, Rocket, treated with respect, was given a police escort to Holloway Funeral Home and cremated.

“He will come back home with me. I don’t want him to be anywhere else,” Bowden said of the ashes he will keep.

“He died doing what he always did, watching us. My wife went to get the mail. All the dogs can tell the sound of her vehicle and the sound of mine. Rocket picked his head up and looked for her, then he put his head down and he passed,” Bowden said.

“He always made sure nobody bothered us. If somebody walked down the road, he’d bark. He had two barks, the ‘It’s OK if you walk by. Just don’t come any closer’ bark and the bark if he thought somebody was too close. God forbid if anybody tried to mess with my wife. He was a Mama’s boy,” Bowden said about the 95-pound black and tan dog.

Bowden talked about Rocket with not only tenderness, but admiration.

“We do a lot of drug work in the sheriff’s department. Drug work is every day to us. We might do two or three sniffs on cars every day.  Tracking is hard. All a dog has to go on is the smell of skin cells off the body. You have to have people there to set up perimeters. Everything has to be going your way to find somebody,” Bowden said.

“One day we starting tracking. We went to the woods and we came to a ditch. Rocket started jumping up and down like a bunny, which notified me somebody was close. He was getting very excited. We were only a couple feet from the guy. Rocket went for him and Rocket apprehended him. The guy was hiding in a bush and Rocket knew where he was,” Bowden said.

At first, Rocket was Deputy 1st Class Matt Jones’ dog, but when Jones was deployed by the National Guard, the dog was assigned to Bowden.  Every day, from the time Rocket was about 1 ½, he accompanied Bowden to work, and returned home at night.

“They spend their lives working,” he said of police K-9s. Rocket was on the job more than 10 years.

“He was what we call a patrol dog. They sniff for drugs. They can track people. They can search a building, apprehend people. We use them for crowd control. Rocket’s main job was, when everything else failed, he protected me,” Bowden said.

The sheriff’s office has six K-9s, each at a cost of $12,000 to $20,000. Five are used for patrol and one is a single-purpose drug dog.

When Rocket retired, Bowden was assigned Blech, a shepherd mix trained in Yugoslavia, who is his current K-9. He also has a lab as a pet, and the two dogs knew something was different as soon as Rocket died.  So did Bowden’s 4-year-old little girl, who just didn’t understand.

Rocket will be remembered as cautious with strangers and attached to his orange, triple-decker Kong toy. He loved it so much that Bowden had him cremated with it.

There was a ceremony at the sheriff’s office when his dog retired, but there won’t be a funeral or military honors following his death.

“Rocket wouldn’t want that anyhow,” Bowden said. “He was kind of a big burly guy, stubborn. He loved being in that police car. He really enjoyed it.

“He was my first and he’ll always be my best.”

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