The owners of K-9 Officer Yoeri, the Belgian Malinois that Forest Park city officials penned up alone in a kennel at Gillem Logistics Center for weeks after a dispute with the dog’s handler, has died.
In a Facebook post to the “K9 Yoeri” page Thursday, his owners wrote, “It is with a sad heart we have to announce the passing of K9 Yoeri. We are so thankful he was home with his daddy, and he will be forever missed. He had a fun 13 years and we are thankful that he was ours. We love you Yoeri Gray. Give doggy Heaven some hell.”
K-9 Officer Yoeri helped FPPD seize drugs and catch suspects during eight years of service to the city.
Former Forest Park Police Master Police Officer Nathan Gray, who was Yoeri’s handler, had asked to take the dog home with him when he left the department. Because police K-9 dogs are not pets and are dangerous if they are not handled correctly, it’s generally accepted practice in law enforcement to retire the dog to its handler when the dog can no longer serve. They also need constant reinforcement of their training.
In October 2021, The Clayton Crescent broke the story on K-9 Yoeri’s treatment by the city. Animal Control officers went over to feed him but that was the dog’s only interaction with humans for weeks. Gray said that he had not wanted media attention but that a family friend, outraged by Yoeri’s isolation, started a Facebook campaign to pressure city officials into freeing the dog.
Four days after the story ran, a second vet told the city to retire K-9 Yoeri.
Gray said Yoeri had developed a hernia that required him to administer daily enemas to the dog.
“We had put in a letter of recommendation–this was probably a week before I left–and requested that he be retired, just based off of his age and his medical issues, because he’s 11 years old,” Gray said at the time. “I believe it was the beginning of this year he had a perineal hernia surgery. It was on his rear end and he was beginning to show signs of having another one. I’ve been giving him food, as far as, you know, mixing in soft food, watering down his food, and also stool softeners, and I’ve been giving him arthritis medication, also, just because he’s getting older and he’s starting to have some joint problems.”
Then-City Manager Marc-Antonie Cooper’s position was that the dog was city property and that he had been trying to get a veterinarian’s opinion on whether the dog was still fit to serve.
Gray said the city first tried to send the dog to a regular kennel, but the facility rejected Yoeri because he was a “dangerous dog.”
“He’s out there by himself,” Gray said at the time. “They took him out there, and I get a phone call, and they’re like, ‘Well, we can’t get the muzzle off of the dog.’ So, this is after I had already left. I was actually shopping with my wife in McDonough. And I asked them, ‘Would you like for me to come up there and take the muzzle off of him for you and put him back in the kennel out there?’ And they were like, ‘Please.’ So I drove all the way back to Forest Park, took the muzzle off him, put him in the kennel–just because I didn’t want him to get hurt. And I didn’t want somebody else to get hurt. Because it’s not their fault.”
While being held in the city kennel, which was hidden in a fenced-off storage area in part of the Gillem Logistics Center, Yoeri developed a swollen paw and the Grays were not sure of whether the city had been giving the dog his arthritis medication.
Before the incident with K-9 Yoeri, the city had allowed its other K-9 officer, Diljan, to retire to his handler Ofc. Freeman’s care.
After several weeks of public pressure and a nationwide social media campaign, #FreeYoeri, the city relented and retired K-9 Officer Yoeri to Gray. The city issued a plaque but did not do the standard “last call” ceremony from radio dispatch, as had been done for K-9 Officer Diljan. (Gray had left the department by then.) Yoeri went home with Gray and spent his last months of retirement in the family’s home.
Numerous supporters filled an Amazon wish list for toys and other items he would need to feel comfortable and to get the exercise and mental stimulation he required:
K-9 Officer Yoeri was 13.