Multnomah County Sheriff's Office mourns death of K9 hero
In 2008, with two criminal suspects barricaded in the attic of a Fairview home, Varro, the Multnomah County Sheriff's Office (MCSO) K9, came in quite handy.
The Multnomah County Warrants Strike Team was called to serve an arrest warrant, but officers were shut out. Officers negotiated for approximately an hour with the men before a suspect's girlfriend allowed police to enter the home. The invitation led MCSO Sgt. Todd Weber and his trusty sidekick Varro to confront the suspects in the attic.
One man said he would come out — but only if officers called off the dog.
When law enforcement officers can't find a suspect, a police dog frequently picks up the slack — often with decisive results.
That was certainly the case with Varro, who in another incident took a mere four minutes to find a man in hiding that Portland police officers had sought for nearly an hour.
Since around Christmas, Weber's been recalling countless tales regarding the German shepherd's impressive investigative prowess. Varro, who retired from police work four years ago, died at home Sunday, Dec. 23. The sheriff's office announced the 14-year-old dog's death on the agency's social media accounts on Wednesday, Dec. 26.
"It is with deep sadness to tell you that MCSO lost one of our K-9s over the weekend," it said.
Varro spent his retirement as Weber's family's pet at their Clackamas County home. Weber decided to put Varro down after he suffered a stroke on Dec. 22.
Citizens posted hundreds of condolences online.
"I just want to thank everybody's support for the kind words and overwhelming support," Weber said. "People are so supportive. He was more than just a family pet or dog — he was a big part of the community."
MCSO police coverage area includes all of Multnomah County, and the agency has absorbed the police departments of Wood Village, Fairview and Troutdale.
Lost and found
During Varro's active duty, Varro tracked down hundreds of suspects by his nose. More than once Varro picked up a suspect's scent from a gun holster, Weber recalled.
"One of the biggest calls I remember was when a suspect ran from a stolen vehicle that had crashed on 159th (Avenue) in Portland," Weber said. "We tracked this guy through a hill, and through Kelly Creek twice."
During the search, Portland police heard shots fired inside a house in the direction Varro was heading, and MCSO deputies deduced the incident was likely related. Varro used the suspect's dropped holster to pick up a scent, and he tracked the man to a house where he was holding hostages.
"Then the guy started putting rounds over our heads," Weber said. "It was pretty wild."
The SWAT team was called in, and they were able to arrest the suspect, and no one suffered any injuries. Weber credits Varro for finding the man.
"That was a phenomenal track," Weber recalled.
In addition to using his keen sense of smell to locate and sometimes intimidate suspects, Varro was great at finding lost items. The pooch's long list of finds include clothing, keys and a lost pair of eyeglasses.
While Varro was useful for conducting searches, he was also great with children, and was an integral part of MCSO's outreach efforts.
The pooch attended show-and-tell events at elementary schools, public demonstrations, and also won K-9 agility competitions.
MCSO reinstated its K-9 tracking program in 2005 when Weber started working with Varro. Nine years later, Varro was starting to slow down physically.
"You get to a sweet spot in your career where your mind is still strong, but the body is kind of wavering a little bit," Weber said.
Varro was diagnosed with a spine condition that causes bone spurs called spondylosis.
Though Varro was slowing down, Weber kept Varro on patrol duties because he was informed police dogs will tell their handlers when it's time to retire.
Varro let Weber know it was time by laying his head down on the floor and refusing to load up in Weber's rig for work.
"He's telling me that he's done," Weber said. "He can't be active anymore. That was the moment. I came into roll call that day, and told the sheriff's office that Varro had decided to retire that morning."
After Varro retired, Weber convinced the department to wait until the end of summer before selecting the dog's patrol replacement.
This allowed Varro to attend a string of summer events in creating the dog's 2014 sendoff tour. Following the tour, MCSO held an official retirement ceremony.
After retiring, Varro spent the next four years as a Weber family pet. He spent those years with Calvin, the Webers' family dog, and Ranger, MCSO's replacement K9 for Varro.
Ranger, who currently patrols the county with Weber, was named Troutdale's K9 citizen in 2018.
During Varro's retirement, his spondylosis continued to worsen, and a couple days before Christmas, Weber came home to his wife informing him the dog was not doing well.
"He was screaming in pain," Weber said. "So, I said, 'Let's just take it easy with him, and give him some pain meds.'"
With Varro's spine condition, the dog was now using a wheelchair to support his hind legs.
Weber often played a wheelbarrow game where he would pick up Varro's back legs and move him around as a fun way to get Varro used to using a wheelchair.
"I tried to do that with the him, and he would just fall back down," Weber said. "I think something had dramatically slipped in him."
Varro's decrease also was likely due to a stroke the dog suffered.
The family didn't want to have Varro hooked up to machines in an intensive care unit over the Christmas break, so Weber called for a house visit from a veterinarian. Following a quality-of-life analysis, Weber knew it was time to end Varro's pain, and Varro's veterinarian euthanized the dog.
Weber memorialized Varro by buying a brick with Varro's name engraved on it. The brick was installed in the National Law Enforcement Museum in Washington D.C.
The sheriff's office statement summed up Varro's distinguished dedication to public safety.
"Varro was 14 years old and served the citizens of Multnomah County with unwavering dedication," it read. "He was a good boy, and will be greatly missed."
TO THE RESCUE
Multnomah County Sheriff's Office K9 Varro, which died just before Christmas, responded to 985 calls for service in his nine-year career.
The calls include 123 captures, 172 assisted apprehensions, 70 article searches, 235 tracks 235, 229 building searches and participation in 113 public events.
Varro was imported from Germany and earned certification as a patrol and tracking K-9 through Oregon Police Canine Association.