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‘He meant the world to me’: Handler of K-9 officer killed in the line of duty Monday speaks on loss of partner

K-9 Graffit was shot and killed early Monday while tracking down a suspect
Posted at 4:30 PM, Feb 16, 2023
and last updated 2023-02-17 12:05:44-05

JEFFERSON COUNTY, Colo. – Teary-eyed and still dealing with the loss of his partner, the handler of a K-9 killed in the line of duty earlier this week thanked the community for their support and remembered a cheerful four-legged animal that was more than just a dog to him and his family.

K-9 Graffit was fatally shot by a man accused of driving into patrol cars at the Colorado School of Mines early Monday, according to officers with the Golden Police Department. Graffit had been released to track the suspect down before he was killed near W. 6th Avenue and 19th Street.

Speaking to news reporters on Thursday, K-9 handler Jefferson County Deputy Sheriff Zachary Oliver, accompanied by his wife, Alicia, remembered Graffit as a K-9 who loved nothing more than his calling and was full of energy.

“He meant the world to me,” Oliver said. “He was more than just a friend; he was my partner. I don't even know what it's going to look like now without him.”

Graffit, a German Shepherd who had just turned 10 years old, was from Budapest and bonded quickly with Oliver and his family, a process his handler said takes a lot of time and work.

“Maybe I gave him a little too many treats and desserts right away to get him to like me, but I knew when I got Graffit that it was going to be — I was hoping for a much longer time — but we were going to be together and be partners for a long, long time,” Oliver said.

Oliver said he didn’t really leave Graffit’s side for “months straight” after acquiring him in July of 2021, as he wanted him to feel included in everyday life and to make sure the German Shepherd had a smooth transition into the job.

In all, both Oliver and Graffit spent 12 weeks together training and bonding before they even got to patrol together for the first time, Oliver said.

“It’s kind of unreal, knowing that he's not behind me, following me from room to room. And going to work without him is going to be a little different,” he said.

Oliver, who said he’ll never get over the loss of losing his partner, told reporters he found solace in the fact that Graffit died “for something huge.”

“He sacrificed himself so that me and my partners didn't get killed. And I know that everybody I work with says, ‘That could have been them with me.’ That [it] could have been them; that Graffit saved their life. And that means a lot to me,” Oliver said.

RELATED: ‘A great dog to be around’: K-9 community remembering fallen Jefferson County police dog

His handler said Graffit’s reach extended well beyond his partner and that he was “truly proud of the family” which he now belonged to.

Oliver said his daughters would treat Graffit as their police dog and added that through him, they learned valuable lessons, including just how dangerous the job of a police officer really is, but also, how important it is for the community as a whole.

“My 11-year-old and my 4-year-old [daughters], they cried a lot when I got home and told them… when we both told them. It was actually the hardest part of the whole day,” Oliver said.

“He was everything to us. Absolutely everything to us,” said Oliver’s wife, Alicia. “It’s really sad that he’s not here anymore. It’s not fair.”

She said it was because of Graffit’s sacrifice that she still has a husband and their daughters still have a father.

“I’m glad that we're not having funerals for officers. I'm just glad that we're not having funerals for any humans at all,” Oliver said. “Obviously, I wish it would have played out different, but I'm just, I'm glad no one's families have to bury a family member.”

Oliver also took time to thank the community for their support Thursday as the family mourned the loss of Graffit and spoke of the comforting messages of support coming people who work in law enforcement in other states and other countries.

“I can’t even start to explain how amazing it is and it’s made this process 1,000 times better,” Oliver said. “It’s unbelievable to know how much he meant to everyone else.”

Oliver said he plans to stay with the K-9 unit in the future as there’s “nowhere else I want to be in that department” since fulfilling his lifelong goal of becoming a handler, adding that it would be incredibly hard to go back to being a police officer without a K-9.

“I don’t even know if I would want do to that because it’d be like going to work without my gun,” Oliver said. “It just would make me feel empty.”

Oliver said he does not know when he’ll get to be a handler for another dog but said it would eventually happen.

He also said he hopes that someday in the future, something can change in Colorado law to increase the punishment for people who kill K-9s while on duty, “because these dogs are more than just a typical animal.”

“I’ll never get over this,” Oliver said. “But I know that the community has helped and, with time, I know how important he was, and I know that his sacrifice wasn't for nothing. It was for something huge. And that makes it better.”

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