Police officers gather to memorialize K-9 friend, Sabek, after 9-year career

Some of Naperville’s finest came together last week to honor one of the fallen. He was a fine officer, all agreed, despite his affinity for helping himself to treats not meant for him, and taunting the other dog sharing his home.

Comdr. Jason Arres, who oversees the Police Department’s K-9 unit, told the room full of officers and other personnel that German shepherd Sabek, loyal and hardworking partner of officer Chris Sherwin, deserved the accolades.

Sabek was 11 when he succumbed on Feb. 25 to degenerative myopathy, a neurological condition that had slowed him down a little bit before he retired just a month ago, on Valentine’s Day.

“Chris asked for nothing too big, but this is a great turnout,” Arres said, surveying the room. “This is what police work is all about. This dog was part of our family for nine years.”

Taking his orders in Hungarian, the native language of the place where he was born, Sabek assisted his partner with many crucial arrests, but it was a missing-person case that earned him the greatest acclaim. The dog’s keen tracking skills, honed in full-day training at least twice every month throughout his law enforcement career, helped him locate a 2-1/2-year-old girl with Down syndrome who had wandered away from her home.

“These dogs, their nose is such a great tool,” said Arres, who has seen police dogs locate a gun tossed into an open field. “It’s just amazing what they can do with their noses and the assist that they give us.”

Sabek logged a respectable record of crime-focused police work, too, at various times in finding 9 kilos of cocaine, 20 pounds of marijuana and 19 pounds of methamphetamine — a record bust for DuPage County.

“That’s impressive,” Arres said.

Strong sendoff

Chief Bob Marshall said the turnout for the ceremony honoring the dog’s career was “a tremendous testament” to Sherwin and Sabek.

“They’re our partners,” Marshall said, noting that police dogs become treasured members of the household when they’re not on duty, directing his comments to Sherwin. “I know this is a difficult time, these past few days, for you and your family. These dogs are our family members, and they do a valuable service to the community, to our police department.”

Arres emphasized the great partnership that developed between Sherwin and Sabek. The duo could be counted on even if a call went out at 3 a.m.

“Never a complaint, never a bad word. It was just, ‘Absolutely, give me a second to wake up, get myself out, I’ll be on my way,’ and that is very much appreciated,” said Arres, citing a gift Sabek had for knowing when duty called. “When it was time to go to work, the switch flipped, and he was dialed in.”

The converse also was evident, both at home with the Sherwins in Plainfield, and at the station, during lulls between calls.

“Even here at the PD, he was a family dog, and that’s a great characteristic to find in a dog,” Arres said. “And I think that speaks to the handler as much as it does to the dog and the great work that he did over the years.”

Work and play

Debbie Sherwin said her husband’s partner was a great addition to the household, and he spent plenty of time just being a normal dog. He made a habit of tormenting Dusty, the family’s shi-poo, and when 9-year-old Karah was a baby, Sabek was fond of licking her face if he found her lying on the bed.

“They were never afraid of him,” she said of the couple’s two daughters, who also include Kristina, 11.

Sabek once devoured a collection of Halloween treat bags that had been lined up neatly on the dining room table, Debbie said, leaving only shredded paper behind. On another occasion, he helped himself to crab legs that were left on a kitchen counter to thaw, shells and all.

But when a call came in, he always was ready.

“He knew when to work,” she said. “When he got in the police car, he was really protective.”

Taking a few moments to address the group, Chris Sherwin expressed gratitude to his police brethren, and to his family.

“Thank you for your support when he would get in the garbage and I wasn’t home, or beat up the little dog and I wasn’t home, or he’d run away and I wasn’t around,” he said. “But after nine years, he came a long way.”

In the end, Sabek’s illness took him in a mercifully short time frame. On the day before he was to be taken to the vet to be put down, just a week and a half after his last day on the job, the girls made clay impressions of his paws, decorating them with hearts, flowers and bits of fur he had shed.

“He will be truly missed,” Chris said. “He was a great partner, great dog.”