An Alabama Department of Corrections K-9, Jake, has died of complications after becoming ill during a contraband search operation. Jake is shown here with his handler, Sgt. Quinton Jones. (Alabama Department of Corrections)

For Jake the drug-sniffing K-9, Thursday’s mission should have been routine.

The 4-year-old Belgian Malinois, employed all his life by the Alabama Department of Corrections, was called on during a multi-team contraband search within a dorm at the Staton Correctional Facility in Elmore County. Jake used his training — and his exemplary nose — to expose a substance officials later determined to be synthetic marijuana, department spokesman Bob Horton said in a Monday news release.

But the reveal came at a cost.

The dog lost his balance and suddenly became unresponsive, according to his handler, Sgt. Quinton Jones. The dorm was evacuated and two registered nurses with the department administered CPR on Jake in the prison courtyard. He was given an IV and taken to a nearby veterinary clinic, where officials say his condition improved going into Friday.

By Saturday morning, however, Jake’s health worsened. Tests showed the dog had developed pneumonia and his vitals were abnormal, according to Horton. He died Saturday at about 3 p.m.

Synthetic weed, which can go by the names K2 or Spice, can be laced with more potent narcotics such as fentanyl — an opioid so powerful that just a tiny grain can cause death. In 2018, a rash of overdoses were connected to synthetic weed, some of which was found to contain rat poison.

In Jake’s case, authorities determined the substance was synthetic weed, though “further analysis of the narcotic is pending.”

Those who worked with Jake say the dog quickly developed a model reputation upon joining the department in June 2014 as a small puppy. In a statement, Jones described his partner as loyal and applauded his “impeccable record in counter-drug operations.” The director of the department’s Investigations and Intelligence Division for counter-drug operations, which houses the K-9 bureau, said Jake was “one of the best” among the nine K-9s assigned to drug-detection teams.

Corrections Commissioner Jeff Dunn said Jake probably saved the lives of others at the prison by sacrificing his own.

"Jake’s heroism and ultimate sacrifice will never be forgotten,” Dunn wrote in a statement. “I extend our deepest condolences for the loss of this noble K9 who honorably served the State of Alabama and for ultimately giving his life while protecting the public.”

On Monday, Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey (R) had issued an official commendation for the fur-covered hero, lauding his “dedication to protecting the people of Alabama and ultimate sacrifice to that cause.”

“I was saddened to hear that one of the Corrections K9s, Jake, lost his life over the weekend. This K9 died in service to public safety and in service to the state,” Ivey said in a statement. “Jake is an example of the goodness, the loyalty and service that our four-legged friends provide. We certainly lost a loyal companion.”

Jake will be laid to rest at a service this week and will be buried with full honors, Horton said. The department’s Investigations and Intelligence Division is conducting a criminal probe into the dog’s death, he added.

Anyone found responsible for the substance “will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”

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