If North Las Vegas Police Department K-9 unit dog Zorro was a human officer, his stamina and policing skills would have run his colleagues out of a job, they say.
The black Belgian Malinois, a rarity for the breed, spent eight years as a single-purpose service dog with a strong reputation.
"When you think of Zorro, he was an action dog," said Officer Gary Nellis. "That's a perfect description."
Zorro is now thought of in remembrance. The 13-year-old dog was put to sleep in July after a battle with age- related illnesses.
Zorro jumped high, listened dutifully and was a department asset from day one with the North Las Vegas Police Department, Nellis said.
His first find, Nellis said, was during a jailbreak attempt in 2003.
A federal inmate was loose in a North Las Vegas neighborhood, and Zorro went on the hunt.
He led his handler to a parked car, but the officer couldn't see a suspect underneath.
"He had climbed under the van and positioned his body on the axle," said Officer Shane Allen. "We wouldn't have found him without the dog."
Years later, Zorro's nose was vital during a search for evidence after a convenience store robbery turned deadly, Allen said. The suspect fled and pitched his weapon in the process.
Little did officers know, but the suspect had wedged the gun in the engine compartment of a car. Zorro knew, Allen said.
"The detectives were overjoyed," he said.
Zorro assisted officers and was the first face seen in many police events, Nellis said.
"Even though it's tough to say, they are the ones to catch the bullets sometimes," he said. "They are the ones to sacrifice."
Zorro was never injured on duty.
He was trained to locate a suspect and bite and hold him in place until officers could take over.
"He was a launcher," said Sgt. Rob Dixon. "He'd get annoyed if you didn't let him go in and get the prize."
Zorro would jump forward and catch his target at full force, said Nellis, who experienced the tactic during regular drills.
"(My fellow officers) were making bets I'd be put on my derriere," he said, about one instance.
Zorro was about 4 years old when the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department purchased him from a breeder in Holland. The dog excelled during technical training, but his position was unexpectedly terminated, Allen said.
The department offered Zorro to North Las Vegas, which was then rebuilding its K-9 unit.
"If Metro would have known what we got, they would have taken him back," Allen said. "He turned out to be a phenomenal dog."
Zorro was partnered with Officer Ian Schwanitz, and the pair won awards for their police work. Schwanitz could not be reached for comment.
Zorro trained, worked and lived with Schwanitz through his department days and into retirement. Zorro was relieved of duty in November 2011. He had difficulty moving, and his black fur was rapidly turning gray.
"He looked like a little old man," Allen said.
Zorro died July 3. Allen spoke at Zorro's funeral July 18.
"I thanked him for his service and talked about the bond with a K-9 unit dog," he said. "Those of the K-9 handlers there knew what that bond means. They become part of your family."
The event was attended by several North Las Vegas Police Department divisions and K-9 bureaus from other valley agencies. The handlers conducted a ceremonious "K-9 Send Off," a variation of a 21-gun salute in which all police dogs in attendance bark together.
The event took place at Craig Road Pet Cemetery, 7450 W. Craig Road, where Zorro is buried.
Nonprofit North Las Vegas K-9 Teams cared for Zorro during his life and career and is in the process of funding a headstone for his memory.
"We take care of them from they day we get them until the day we put them in the ground," Allen said.
Contact Centennial and North Las Vegas View reporter Maggie Lillis at email@example.com or 477-3839.