GREENSBORO, N.C. – The University of North Carolina at Greensboro Police Department started its K-9 Unit in 2007.
Its first K-9 was Aja the German Shepherd. She joined the force at just 10 months old. Her K-9 handler was Sgt. David Combs.
Both Aja and Combs retired together in 2013 -- officers said it was only right for the dynamic pair to leave together. Aja served six years with UNCG police. After leaving, she remained in the care of her handler, Combs.
In the years after her retirement, Aja participated in the Guilford County Pet Responsibility Program, where students learned how to take care of animals through hands-on interaction.
But this week, members of the UNCG Police Department received some upsetting news.
“We've had employees crying here because they loved Aja so much,” said Sgt. Marcus Graves, who works with the campus police K-9 unit. “And she will be greatly missed.”
Aja passed away after battling a long-term spinal cord disease. Graves said Aja was taken to a veterinarian who had no other choice but to euthanize her due to complications with her disease.
But Aja’s contribution to UNCG police is seen in the legacy she leaves behind.
“She built, basically, the canine program for the UNCG Police Department off her success,” Graves said. “She set the foundation so that we could have more K-9s. Both her and Sgt. Combs did.”
When Aja joined the force, she was used not only for UNCG police, but for neighboring police agencies as well.
Officials said Aja helped police seize “nearly six pounds of marijuana, 30 grams of crack cocaine, various amounts of other narcotics, $31,945 in cash, 46 items of drug paraphernalia, five guns and one car. Aja also made seven criminal apprehensions after tracking suspects.”
Graves says Aja proved herself to be a valuable asset in policing, and paved the way so the department could establish its K-9 program—a program that is molded by smaller cities and universities across the country.
Currently, the campus police department has three K-9s: Jax, Tink and Sasha.