HENDERSON — The Henderson Police Department was forced to retire the last remaining dog in its K-9 unit, a German Shepherd named Deli, after she was diagnosed with an eye disorder that prevented her from properly doing her job.

Police Chief Marcus Barrow said that the Henderson department had two dogs to begin 2020, Deli and Nero, a Belgian Malinois. But the death of Nero’s handler, Officer Jeffrey Macialek earlier this year, meant the dog had to be retired as well.

“We retired Officer Macialek’s dog due to his age at the time,” Barrow said. “It wouldn’t have been fiscally responsible for us to re-train somebody on that dog. Nero and Deli were bought at the same time and both were just beginning to show their age.”

In Barrow’s 22 years with the Henderson PD, he has seen countless dogs come through the K-9 program from its first one, Raider, and he considers the unit a crucial part of ensuring that he and his officers protect the lives of each citizen in the city.

Barrow said that each dog in the K-9 unit is trained for multiple uses, including narcotics detection, tracking and searches, but they also participate in demonstrations for students at different schools around Henderson.

At its peak, the Henderson police K-9 program had as many as six dogs, but Barrow believes the unit functions most effectively with only a small number of animals that officers can train and bond with over an extended period of time.

“I’m satisfied with having two or three dogs,” Barrow said. “A lot of dedication goes into this program, and in the law enforcement world right now, we’re seeing a lot of officers come and go from various departments. You need about five or seven years to be a great K-9 handler because you form a special bond with that K-9 and you want to stick with that dog.”

Although the Henderson PD K-9 program is depleted, Barrow does not see that lasting, as the department is interviewing potential K-9 handlers, which will determine whether or not an officer can keep up with and bond with an animal at its disposal.

The process, in which candidates will be asked to provide a summary on their work with law enforcement agencies and any other special attributes that could be beneficial to the K-9 program, is expected to last one month.

But Barrow said the main challenge will be trying to obtain the proper funding to afford more dogs.

A dog alone costs $6,500 to $9,000 to acquire, and the department handles its basic training in-house to save money, Barrow said. Food donations from Mars Inc., the pet-food maker that has a factory near Henderson, have also helped lower the program’s cost over the years.

Barrow is optimistic the Henderson PD will be able to obtain enough money to keep the K-9 unit going for several more years. But regardless of what ends up happening over the next few months, he credited everyone who has worked to maintain the program’s efficiency.

“The K-9 program has always been a part of the Henderson PD,” Barrow said. “Hopefully we can continue that tradition because I think we’ve done very well with it. We’re lucky to have a retired officer in Lt. Greg Williams, who’s been a K-9 officer for us over the last 15 [to] 18 years, and he has done such a great job with us.”

Barrow said that the Henderson PD will continue to partner with the Vance County Sheriff’s Office on any request pertaining to K-9’s while he tries to find the right officers and dogs for the department’s own unit going forward.