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Spokane

K9 Var awarded Purple Heart

Tue., April 28, 2009

Standing ovation, petting follow

One of the Spokane Police Department’s highest honors came with an unusual gift Monday night when it was awarded by Spokane police Chief Anne Kirkpatrick – a large bone.

Kirkpatrick presented Var, a German shepherd who served the department for about a decade, the Purple Heart Award.

To a standing ovation from the Spokane City Council and those in the audience, Kirkpatrick placed the medal around Var’s neck. Var, who was accompanied by his handler, Officer Dan Lesser, and Sgt. Brent Austin, was permitted to put his paws on the council desk, where he received congratulation pets from council President Joe Shogan.

“He is indeed a police officer to us,” Kirkpatrick said after the presentation.

Var was with Lesser and Austin when he was shot twice March 17 after tracking Johnnie L. Longest III, who had fled from a stolen car.

When Var approached, police say, Longest fired at him.

Lesser returned fire, fatally wounding Longest.

A bullet entered beneath Var’s left eye and exited behind his ear, Lesser said.

Var also was shot in the left back leg.

Longest, 22, died at Deaconess Medical Center.

Without Var, the bullets likely would have been aimed at the officers, Lesser said.

“He actually saved our lives,” Lesser said.

Besides the medal and bone, Var was given a bar for a uniform that will be worn by Lesser. The dog, who lives with Lesser and his family, has recovered and is doing well in retirement, Lesser said. “He’s turned into quite the lazy house dog,” he said.

Jonathan Brunt can be reached at jonathanb@spokesman.com or (509) 459-5442.


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