Rowan Sheriff’s deputy says goodbye to beloved K-9

Rick Vanhoy, left, and Nero were partners for 10 years.
Rick Vanhoy, left, and Nero were partners for 10 years.

Rowan Sheriff’s deputy Rick Vanhoy recently said goodbye to a partner whom he worked alongside for much of his 13-year law enforcement career. A few years after beginning with the Rowan County Sheriff’s Office, Vanhoy became a K-9 handler. He connected and trained with Nero, a black and brown German shepherd. They were partners for nearly a decade. The beloved dog retired in 2011 and after some time with regular pain, Nero died June 6.

Some would remember Nero as the dog sitting or sleeping in the front of any Rowan County courtroom. Vanhoy remembers Nero as the partner who in his career found guns, people and was friendly toward all who met him, especially children.


In 2003, Nero was the first law enforcement dog bought by the county. Prior to Nero, officers bought their own K-9s. Vanhoy traveled to Oklahoma where he spent three weeks training with Nero, who was bred in Germany. Nero was just one and a half years old. He was 12 when he had to be euthanized. June 7 would’ve been exactly 10 years Nero and Vanhoy had been together.

“He couldn’t sit good. He couldn’t get up without being helped up. I couldn’t let him suffer, he was too good of a dog,” Vanhoy said.

Vanhoy believed Nero knew it was time.

The dog was trained to patrol, search for explosives and handguns. He may have looked fierce, but Vanhoy said. Nero was very friendly.

He recalled a time when a child was called to testify on the stand about being molested. The young girl was nervous and didn’t want to speak in court. It was suggested to let Nero sit with the child. He sat next to her as she testified.

Vanhoy and Nero often visited local schools for presentations. Vanhoy would lose Nero in a sea of children. Vanhoy would get thank you letters and cards drawn by children for him and Nero. Vanhoy has a large photo album filled with those notes, photos and many more law enforcement certifications.

“I never knew Nero to bite anybody, but me,” Vanhoy said with a chuckle.

Nero bit Vanhoy three times, he said, during training sessions, each time when Vanhoy was target shooting.

“He didn’t like guns. He went berserk,” Vanhoy said.

Nero got along with Vanhoy’s wife. She could get Nero to do things Vanhoy couldn’t, he said.

Nero was the kind of dog who didn’t beg to be petted. He would sit there, and if someone wanted to pet him, they could.

“He was just an all-around great dog,” Vanhoy said.

Vanhoy and Nero were called out to search for a shooting suspect a number of years ago. When Vanhoy unleashed Nero, the dog alerted toward a wooded area. All of the investigators said Nero was searching in the wrong area. But Nero found the suspect’s drugs and cash at a well house. The suspect’s mother had hidden the items and Nero followed her scent to the well house. It was a remarkable find since Nero wasn’t a drug tracking dog.

In 2011, Vanhoy received another K-9. Tino, a 9-year-old brown Belgian Malinois, who served in Iraq from 2007-2009, was supposed to be sent back to Iraq, but a dog Vanhoy was supposed to adopt was given to someone else. Tino is an excitable dog, but Vanhoy said he is friendly. Tino searches for cell phones, explosives and guns.

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