Looking back at 2015: Dog’s sacrifice led to unique experience

By Brian Knox | Published Saturday, December 26, 2015

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Saying Goodbye

SAYING GOODBYE – Wise County Sgt. JT Manoushagian and his wife, Sandy, comfort each other during the memorial service for his K-9 partner, Pepper. He is one of five officers possibly saved by Pepper’s actions. Messenger Photo by Joe Duty

Having covered news in Wise County for 15 1/2 years now, many stories I work on come with a sense of familiarity.

While each story is different, I often speak to people I know or cover situations that happen on a fairly regular basis. I often have a good idea of what to expect going in to certain situations.

Brian Knox

Brian Knox

But after covering an incident last January in which a Wise County Sheriff’s Office K-9 officer was killed by an armed suspect officers were tracking, I was tasked with covering a memorial service.

How do I cover a memorial service for a dog?

I’ve written stories on funerals for people before, but never one that involved a canine.

I heard rumblings in the community. “Why are they wasting time and money on a funeral for a dog?” Or something along those lines.

As it turned out, it was one of the most powerful memorial services I’ve ever seen.

In fact, calling it a memorial service doesn’t even tell the whole story. Because while Pepper’s life was remembered, the focus was just as much on the lives of those with him that day.

As Pepper’s partner, Sgt. JT Manoushagian said, Pepper’s actions ensured that those in attendance were not saying goodbye to human officers at the service.

As family photos of the officers flashed on a screen, it was a reminder of how much could have been lost that day, but wasn’t.

By the end of the service, it was evident this was truly a celebration of life.

I tried my best to describe the scene for readers who couldn’t attend the service. It was a challenge to capture the atmosphere of such a unique event.

But hopefully readers realized that this was more than just a “funeral for a dog.”

It also served as a reminder of the importance of sacrifice and the dangers that officers face every day.

As for me, it was also a reminder that just when you think you’ve covered it all, life always brings something new to discover.

Brian Knox is the Messenger’s special projects manager.

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