An 11-year-old police dog in Virginia got the recognition she deserved after a terminal cancer diagnosis.
The German shepherd named Candy had been with her handler, Master Deputy II Anthony “Tony” Natalzia, at the Virginia Beach Sheriff’s Office for the past four years and specialized in narcotics.
Candy joined the sheriff’s office in 2014 and was the “first narcotics-detection dog”, serving for nearly 10 years, according to a news release by the sheriff’s office.
“She went everywhere with me,” Natalzia told McClatchy News in a phone interview. “You see these dogs more than you see your family.”
Candy, set to retire this year and described as a pup who always “loved to play with toys” and a “rockstar at her job”, developed a limp which Natalzia first attributed to her old age.
“The plan was to have her shed five pounds to get some weight off her hips while we gave her medication for the limp, and it was at one point working,” he said.
Then one day, Natalzia noticed Candy, an “extremely regimented” dog, hadn’t eaten her food.
“I thought it was weird but I did the classic sick dog procedure. “I boiled her some chicken and rice, but the next day she threw up,” he said.
After reading that nausea and stomach issues were a side effect of her medication, Natalzia booked an appointment with Candy’s vet to further investigate.
The vet “didn’t like how Candy’s knee looked” and ordered an X-ray, which showed cancer had spread throughout the dog’s body.
“It was in her lungs, it was everywhere,” Natalzia said. “The vet said there was nothing they could do and I couldn’t even comprehend it – we had only gone for a routine visit.”
Natalzia said he then called his department, and plans were put in place for Candy to have her walkout.
“I can’t thank my department and Sheriff Holcomb enough for organizing the walkout on only hours notice,” he said. “She was given her final salute and then we drove to the vet to put her down. She was just too far along.”
Natalzia said Candy was unique in being “basically a house pet” until she saw him “put on his uniform” and will be missed by the entire sheriff’s office as she was “truly a special dog.”
“You think you’re going to have some time with your dog after they retire so I feel cheated on that end of it but as a responsible handler there was no way I could let her suffer to be selfish,” Natalzia said.
While Candy lived and worked with Natalzia, he was also working with Pablo, another police dog that would eventually take over for Candy when she retired.
Natalzia said Candy was his “ride or die” and a fellow trainer gave him condolences that he agrees with “100%.”
“This gives me goosebumps but he said the best way to honor Candy and her memory is to make Pablo as good as Candy was,” Natalzia said. “Be as good of a team with Pablo as you were (with) Candy.”
And Natalzia said that’s exactly what he’s going to do.
Virginia Beach is about 100 miles southeast of Richmond.