It’s still hard for Richland County Deputy Warren Cavanagh to talk about losing his best friend.
But he opened up Friday for the first time since his K-9 partner, Fargo, was shot and killed during an early morning armed robbery last month in north Columbia.
Cavanagh, a six-year veteran of the department, seemed at times stoic and reflective while at others fought to regain his composure as he talked about the Belgian Malinois police dog.
“He’s your best friend that knows what you’re saying before you say it,” he said. “He knows what you’re doing before you do it.”
Though Cavanagh would not go into detail about the Dec. 16 incident, which is still under investigation, he did talk about when he realized Fargo had been shot.
“(The suspect) was about 30 to 40 meters away from me,” he said. “I had to call him (Fargo) off ... It’s not like he laid down.”
Cavanagh said he then saw blood in the dog’s mouth and thought he’d “gotten some of the bad guy.” Then he discovered his partner of five years had been shot. Cavanagh, who rushed the dog to a veterinarian, said it was there that he had his final moments with Fargo.
“I did not say goodbye, because saying goodbye means you’re never going to see him again,” he said. “So I said, ‘I’ll see you later.’”
Maurice Antwon McCreary, 21, was arrested after a nine-hour manhunt. McCreary has been charged with the unlawful killing of a police dog, five counts of attempted murder and two counts of armed robbery. He is being held at the Richland County Detention Center.
It is the first time Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott, who has been with the department for 37 years, could recall one of their police dogs being shot and killed in the line of duty.
Cavanagh said department counseling, along with support he’s received from friends, family and colleagues, has helped him cope.
He said his family still misses Fargo. Dogs in the K-9 unit live with their handlers and the deputies’ families.
“My daughter (8) is a smart girl,” he said. “I don’t sugar coat what I do. She knows what I do. I told her exactly how everything happened. She still remembers him and is still very upset.”
Since the announcement of Fargo’s death, the Sheriff’s Department has received thousands of cards, letters and emails, including from Holland, where Fargo was born and where Belgium Malinois are raised and trained for law enforcement agencies. .The department has also received tens of thousands of dollars in contributions from 25 cents to $10,000. Many contributions have come from children.
There is more good news. A new K-9 partner for Cavanagh is expected to arrive next week, joining Richland County’s force of 15 other dogs.
The department does not have any details on the dog’s name or age yet. But like Fargo, the new K-9 deputy will be a Belgium Malinois.
Will the new dog help ease the loss?
“I hope it will,” Cavanagh said. “My biggest concern up until this point was getting Fargo laid down and showing everybody ... what he was. ... There was no other talk about a new dog until I was ready. And when I felt like I was ready, I let them know.”