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Honored Spokane K-9 dies due to surgery complications

Mon., June 29, 2009, 4:27 p.m.

Var shot during March chase for which he received Purple Heart

A Spokane Police K-9 awarded a Purple Heart for taking two bullets died Sunday morning due to complications from surgery to remove a brain tumor.

Var, a 10-year-old German shepherd, served the Police Department for more than 8 years. He retired this year after chasing down and being shot twice by a man fleeing from police March 17.

Var’s handler, Officer Dan Lesser, shot and killed the suspect, 22-year-old Johnnie L. Longest III.

The K-9 was warded a Purple Heart — the department’s highest honor — in April for his role in the shooting. Officers said if the dog hadn’t taken the bullets, they might have been killed.

Var was unable to return to patrol after the shooting.

After his retirement, the dog started having seizures and an MRI revealed a pea-size brain mass, said Officer Jennifer DeRuwe, police spokeswoman.

Officers raised funds to help pay for the surgery to remove the tumor, otherwise Lesser would have had to pay for Var’s medical costs himself, DeRuwe said.

“Var was an amazing dog, and you don’t realize all the good that he has done and all the lives he has impacted,” Lesser said in an e-mail.

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