Surf City Police Department’s well-loved K-9, Kayda, retires after eight years on the police force.
Sometimes man’s best friend turns out to be much more than a faithful canine companion that lives for belly rubs and daily walks. Some dogs have jobs, like a police K-9, and work hard to serve and protect citizens and first responders. That’s the life of Kayda — or rather it was before she retired from the Surf City Police Department on December 1, 2020.
Kayda, a 10-year-old Labrador retriever, made up one-half of the Surf City K-9 unit, along with her human partner, Sgt. Eric Petersen. She spent eight years with the agency detecting narcotics, tracking criminals and finding lost individuals.
Sgt. Peterson’s relationship with Kayda first began when his duties as an officer sent him to the Pender County Sheriff’s Office. Kayda, a puppy, was originally donated to the sheriff’s office to be trained as a law-enforcement K-9 for the deputy sheriff.
“I would always play with her whenever I had to go in,” Sgt. Petersen says.
For whatever reason, it was thought that Kayda might not make a good canine officer. Recognizing the bond that Sgt. Petersen had with the dog, the deputy asked the sergeant if he wanted Kayda. Without hesitation, he said yes.
Having always had a special connection with dogs, Sgt. Petersen knew instantly that Kayda was capable of becoming a great canine working dog. After three months of training, and when she was just a year old, she was ready to serve, establishing the Surf City K-9 unit and a partnership that would continue for seven more years.
Not long after she had completed her training, Kayda quickly proved she had what it takes to be a successful police dog when she found a fugitive who had fled on foot.
“Kayda was able to track and locate her when all others had failed,” Sgt. Petersen says. “That’s when the sheriff’s deputy said to me, ‘Why did we ever get rid of her!?”
Working as a K-9 officer for Surf City Police Department was the perfect job for Sgt. Petersen, who began his career in law enforcement 13 years ago after his service as a Marine ended. He has a passion for animals and what he calls a “hero complex.”
“It’s a natural profession for a lot of former military professionals because it has the same kind of structure,” Sgt. Petersen says. As with most specialty units in law enforcement, Sgt. Petersen had to meet the experience requirements to be part of a K-9 Unit, which he did after a few years on the force.
Like all other law-enforcement K-9 units, Kayda and Sgt. Petersen share a tight bond created by trust and a common work ethic. Unlike a human partner, police dogs live with their partners. As a team, they are together 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Kayda has been living with the Petersen family since she was a puppy — and that’s where she will continue to live out her golden years in retirement.
Over the past seven years, Kayda has had numerous successful missions helping officers do their jobs safer and faster. Last spring, one of her final crowning accomplishments on her K-9 resume came when she helped officers facilitate a major narcotics bust in Surf City. The police team confiscated 331 bindles of heroin, 8.3 grams of methamphetamine and 3 grams of crack cocaine that resulted in multiple charges against three men who were booked into the Pender County jail under no bonds.
An important part of Kayda’s life as a law enforcement K-9 was community engagement. She represented the Surf City Police Department at schools, birthday parties and Boy Scout and Girl Scout events.
“Anytime there was an opportunity for kids and adults to see her, we went,” Sgt. Petersen says. “She loved showing off.”
Sgt. Petersen’s favorite moment of Kayda’s career is when she saved a man’s life.
The Surf City Police Department received a report about a possible suicide situation in Pender County. Officers finally located the individual’s car hours after the report came through. They found a blood pool in the seat of the car and blood leading away from the car. But after nearly 20 feet, the blood trail disappeared. That’s when they called for the K-9 unit.
“Within three minutes of Kayda’s nose hitting the ground, she found him,” Sgt. Petersen says. “He had cut his wrists so severely that had she found him just minutes later, he would have died. She literally saved his life.”
Kayda was always excited and ready to hit the streets when duty called. But she has just as easily adjusted to civilian life after retirement. As a police K-9, she had to have structure in her life. Certain things were things considered unacceptable of a working dog, like getting on furniture, sleeping on the bed and eating people food.
Retirement has its perks.
“Her life is a little easier now,” Sgt. Petersen says. “She gets to be on the couch and sleep in the bed, and she occasionally gets some pieces of steak. She used to get excited when she would see me gear up, knowing she got to go to work. Now, she just lays in the bed, looks up at me while I’m getting ready and then goes back to sleep!”
After eight years together as the Surf City K-9 unit, Sgt. Petersen and Kayda are passing on the torch to another officer and dog. Though he’ll still help supervise and consult with the new unit, Sgt. Petersen will once again become a solo officer.
What he enjoyed most about working as a K-9 officer was watching Kayda tracking; her ability to locate someone hours after they had left the area just by sniffing human skin rafts they left behind.
“I will miss working with a dog more than you can ever know,” Sgt. Petersen says.