Officials held a retirement ceremony Wednesday morning for Lake County Sheriff’s Canine Dax, who is credited with saving hundreds of lives and tracking down hundreds of offenders. | Photo: Woo-Sung Shim / Lake and McHenry County Scanner

Officials credited Lake County Sheriff’s Canine Dax with saving hundreds of lives and tracking down hundreds of offenders during his retirement ceremony Wednesday following a career-ending injury.

Dax – a German Shepherd born in March 2014 in the Czech Republic – joined the sheriff’s office in the spring of 2015. He was 13 months old when he joined the team.

Following nearly 10 years of service, Dax’s retirement was announced last week.

A public retirement ceremony was held Wednesday morning outside of the Lake County Sheriff’s Patrol Division in Libertyville.

Dozens of community members attended, some even bringing their own dogs.

Lake County Sheriff’s Office Deputy Chief Christopher Covelli said during the ceremony that Dax and his handler, Deputy John Forlenza, have located over 400 missing endangered people.

Lake County Sheriff’s Canine Dax looks at a camera during his retirement ceremony Wednesday morning. | Photo: Woo-Sung Shim / Lake and McHenry County Scanner

“There’s no doubt this equates to over 400 lives being saved by this canine, Canine Dax,” Covelli said.

Dax has located some of society’s most violent fleeing criminals, Covelli said just before Dax began barking. “He’s still got it in him,” Covelli joked as the crowd began laughing.

Covelli said the canine has recovered hundreds of kilos of illegal drugs, assisted with the seizure of millions of dollars, recovered dozens of firearms discarded by offenders, assisted with dozens of seized vehicles and has participated in hundreds of community and school demonstrations.

“It’s hard to travel anywhere in the United States and meet somebody who hasn’t heard of Canine Dax from here in Lake County,” he said.

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Dax has received dozens of awards and recognition, including from elected officials and nationwide organizations.

Lake County Sheriff’s Office Deputy Chief Christopher Covelli speaks at a retirement ceremony Wednesday morning for Lake County Sheriff’s Canine Dax. | Photo: Woo-Sung Shim / Lake and McHenry County Scanner

During the canine’s career with the United States Police Canine Association (USPCA), he competed in several regional and national trials across the country.

Dax has earned numerous top finishes in the areas of tracking, article searches, narcotics, suspect searches and protection.

He won six USPCA Regional Championships and earned two Tracking Exceptional Certifications.

Dax has appeared on numerous local and national news stations, including Fox Nation, NBC, A&E Network and ESPN.

Forlenza spoke during the Wednesday ceremony and reflected on Dax’s career, including Dax’s first apprehension of a felony domestic battery suspect who fled on foot in North Barrington in 2015.

Lake County Sheriff’s Deputy John Forlenza, Canine Dax’s handler, speaks at a retirement ceremony Wednesday morning for Dax. | Photo: Woo-Sung Shim / Lake and McHenry County Scanner

“He found the offender hiding behind a tree. Dax started to bark aggressively — go figure. Something he has obviously excelled in,” Forlenza said as Dax barked during the ceremony.

“The offender gave up. I remember being so proud of him looking back and I could tell he was proud of himself also,” Forlenza said.

Dax’s handler said he never anticipated that his first find in the woods would be the start of a career where Dax would go on to locate hundreds of violent offenders, subjects in mental crisis, lost children and elderly subjects.

Forlenza thanked the community for all of the cards, letters, care packages and well-wishes as Dax has worked to recover from his recent injury.

“I want you all to know the special role you have played in Dax’s career and his rehabilitation,” Forlenza said.

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Dozens of cards made by community members for Lake County Sheriff’s Canine Dax are showcased at the dog’s retirement ceremony Wednesday morning. | Photo: Woo-Sung Shim / Lake and McHenry County Scanner

The canine was injured on March 3 while apprehending a person who had committed several felonies and was fleeing near Zion.

Dax injured his neck and spine, which resulted in temporary paralysis in his hindquarters.

He was later diagnosed with cervical and thoracolumbar Intervertebral Disc Disease (IVDD) and lumbosacral IVDD exasperated during the apprehension, Covelli said.

Dax went through intensive physical therapy following the injury, which allowed him to regain the ability to walk and use his hind legs.

Covelli said Dax’s team of veterinarians determined he would not be able to return to active duty for his physical well-being.

Sheriff John Idleburg accepted Dax’s official retirement request from Forlenza and ordered him to be turned over to Forlenza to enjoy his retirement.

Lake County Sheriff’s Canine Dax is awarded for his nearly 10 years of service during his retirement ceremony Wednesday morning. | Photo: Woo-Sung Shim / Lake and McHenry County Scanner

In an interview, Covelli told Lake and McHenry County Scanner that the ceremony was a “bittersweet day” for the sheriff’s office.

“Bitter in the sense that we’re losing a tremendous asset that served Lake County, served our agencies so well, his colleagues on patrol and every division of the sheriff’s office. I mean, he’s done so much,” Covelli said.

“Sweet in the sense where we’re very happy that Canine Dax gets to go live and enjoy retirement with Deputy Forlenza and the Forlenza family,” Covelli added.

“The only thing we can attribute to the success of Canine Dax is the partnership he had with Deputy Forlenza. It is truly incredible how those two grew to know each other.”

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Lake County Sheriff’s Deputy John Forlenza presents an award to his partner, Canine Dax, during a retirement ceremony Wednesday morning. | Photo: Woo-Sung Shim / Lake and McHenry County Scanner

When asked what Dax’s retirement meant for the sheriff’s office’s canine program, Covelli said, “We certainly will be replacing Dax, although he isn’t replaceable, we will find another canine that’s suitable and move forward with that in the future.”

Covelli described Dax in one word – incredible.

“This was the wonder dog. He could find anything. He and Deputy Forlenza are truly one of the best all-time canine teams I have ever seen,” Covelli said.

In an interview, Forlenza told Lake and McHenry County Scanner that he finds it memorable when he drives by the locations where Dax has been deployed.

“What’s most significant is the lives that he’s saved during his deployment on many occasions, including my own,” Forlenza said.

Lake County Sheriff’s Canine Dax was recognized during his retirement ceremony Wednesday morning. | Photo: Woo-Sung Shim / Lake and McHenry County Scanner

Forlenza said Dax is naturally smart and called him “exceptional.”

“Training only enhanced that. Through training, you build a bond with the dog and trust. So obviously, he trusts me and I trust him, and that made for a very good working relationship,” Forlenza said.

Forlenza added that Dax’s retirement life will be different from work and there will be a transition since he would now be spending time at home rather than in the back of a squad car.

Forlenza said he wants another opportunity with a new canine.

“It’d be an honor to do one more,” Forlenza said.