Ryker, the mischievous yet fierce Missoula police K9, was likened to a 2-year-old with attention deficit disorder. He loved people, especially children, but was also known to take down felony criminal suspects upon command with his lockjaw-like mandibles.
Ryker was certified for SWAT searches, helicopter drops and federal legal cases. He could rappel off a building with his handler, had an 80% successful track rate, and saved officers’ lives more than once. With 300 hours of training under his collar, he could sniff out narcotics, search buildings for suspects, and immediately respond to commands issued in the Czech native to his original trainers.
Earlier this week, the ferocious yet lovable former police dog was remembered as a loyal partner and companion, who served the people of Missoula for eight years. He was an ambassador for his breed and his duties, being featured on trading cards, and earning rock star status at Rattlesnake School, where he met all of the fifth-graders while on duty, according to some of the 140 comments on the Missoula Police Department's Facebook page. The post of his passing was shared 173 times.
“Had the privilege to meet Ryker and I am terrified of dogs. Mike and Ryker made it a really pleasant experience,” Mona Molenda McCarty wrote in one of the comments. “Sorry for your loss. RIP Ryker.”
“I had the privilege of meeting/petting Ryker a few years ago,” added Jenn Porter. “Such a sweet boy.”
His loyalty and protective nature were so profound that it still brings tears to the eyes of his third and final partner and trainer, Mike Kamerer, a military-hardened Marine who’s now a corporal with the Missoula Police Department.
“He was unique. When he deployed in the field I was his handler and he scared even me. But as soon as he was done he was the sweetest dog in the world,” Kamerer said. “I took him everywhere with me, and he also dropped by Leadership Missoula, and would do school demonstrations where he’d be licking faces and licking food.”
Ryker died June 27 of unknown but suspected natural causes. His initial paperwork was lost, but Kamerer said Ryker was four months shy of being 14 years old. Ryker was retired from police service in 2015.
“I had him almost seven years,” Kamerer said on July 1. “His four-year retirement is today. Unfortunately, he passed last Thursday.
“I’ve lost friends in combat, and I equate him with that. He was my family and my partner at work. Without a doubt, my time with him was the highlight of my career.”
A second K9 with the Missoula Police Department, Halo, also recently died, in his case of cancer. His handler, Officer Tim Harrington, didn’t respond to requests for an interview, but in an April 22 proclamation honoring National K9 Veterans Day, Mayor John Engen called out Halo and other military and police dogs.
Engen noted that K9s have served the Missoula community for 22 years by “protecting officers, de-escalating potentially violent suspects, performing searches, tracking suspects, locating discarded or concealed evidence and detecting and locating illegal drugs” and in cities across the nation K9s are essential to detecting and removing dangerous opioids from the streets.
“Halo was deployed approximately 325 times between June 2012 and July 2016 while assisting the Missoula Police Department and K9 Halo is recognized in his final days for his selfless devotion to the City of Missoula,” Engen stated in the proclamation.
Harrington told the mayor and City Council that it was tough letting go of his constant companion.
“He was with me every day for four years, almost every hour of every day,” Harrington said. “After retiring, he was my shadow, and went everywhere with me. It’s been rough without him.”
Ryker made several key apprehensions during his career with the Missoula police, including the smackdown of a suspected drug dealer by biting him in the butt. But that wasn’t necessarily Ryker’s style.
Instead, since the Belgian Malinois weighed in at 70 pounds — a body style similar to but smaller than a German shepherd — Ryker developed his own takedown tactic. He would lunge at a perpetrator’s shoulder or arm, then swing those hind legs and hips in a circular fashion.
“He would pull the bad guy off balance, not letting go and knocking them off their feet. Then he’s the top dog; he owns you now. He was super vigilant about it,” Kamerer said.
Ryker was so beloved that a GoFundMe site raised $5,800 to help pay for his rehabilitation after he chased a yellowjacket wasp over the edge of the top floor of a University of Montana parking garage in 2014. “He just didn’t like bees,” Kamerer recalled wryly.
Ryker dropped about 60 feet onto the concrete below, and Kamerer thought he was dead until Ryker started limping away and yelping. A lot. He ended up needing multiple surgeries, and in an odd twist of fate introduced Kamerer to the woman who would become his wife.
Dogs were considered property, not officers, by the department, and there was talk of retiring Ryker after his fall and euthanizing him. Fellow Officer Rebekah Potter set up the GoFundMe site after learning the department only covered one of Ryker’s surgeries, and eventually they purchased Ryker and he became the family’s pet.
Ryker also fell for Potter, following her around the house incessantly. That love was passed to their 9-month-old son, and one of Kamerer’s favorite photographs shows Ryker bending down for a caress from Kellan, who is lying on a blanket on the floor.
“He never bit anyone until he was deployed by me. Then he would give his life if he had to,” Kamerer said.
Even though he was well trained, when Ryker was off shift he wasn’t above stealing bananas off the top of Kamerer’s refrigerator, taking a snooze on the off-limits couch or swiping a cookie. And he liked to use that well-honed nose to sniff out treats in the garbage can, too.
“He tried to test me to see what he could get away with,” said Kamerer, who applied the ADD analogy to Ryker. “When we first started training together he bit me a lot to see what he could get away with and try to run the show. I ended up with plenty of puncture wounds on my bare arms, but at the end of our training he was so loyal and protective.
“He was an extra set of eyes on patrol, always searching, always on deck, watching, and perking up when something is going on. I miss him so much.”