When former Snellville Police Department K9 Chris died this weekend, the force lost a hard working alumni — and his handler’s family lost a member.
“He’s been living with us in his retirement and he took on the role of family protector, because they always have to have a job,” said Lt. David Matson, Chris’s former handler. “He was like a member of the pack.”
Chris passed away on Saturday, just nine days shy of his 14th birthday. He’d been battling cancer since October of 2016.
“He had surgery to remove the tumor and all the biopsy results came back looking really good,” he said. “But there’s always a chance of recurrence.”
Chris’s cancer came back in January. By Easter weekend, the Matson family had prepared themselves to put him down. Chris wasn’t eating, drinking or using the bathroom.
But, on the morning he was scheduled for euthanization, Chris suddenly rallied. He began to eat and drink again. He wanted to go outside to use the bathroom.
“Lo and behold, we got six extra weeks with him,” Matson said. “As upset as we are, we can’t be too upset because we got bonus time.”
Matson said Chris had always been surprising and impressive like that. He was the last remaining dog in a team of three that made up the Snellville Police Department’s original K9 unit, which began in 2004.
He served the city for a little more than 10 years.
“For a working dog, that is an absolutely amazing figure,” Matson said. “Most dogs’ (working life) will be about eight years, so to get 10 years out of him was awesome.”
Matson and Chris worked together to track evidence and narcotics during that decade. When they first started working together, Chris was just over a year old. He was still basically a puppy and had a lot to learn on the job.
But, then again, so did Matson.
“I tell people all the time that I was really blessed to have Chris because, him being my first dog, I didn’t know what I was doing when I started,” Matson said. “I couldn’t imagine having worked with another dog, because I wouldn’t know half the things I know now. He was not only an incredible partner, but an incredible teacher.”
By the time Chris retired in 2014, he was well-known in the Snellville community. Snellville police Chief Roy Whitehead said Chris “served the city of Snellville with distinction.”
“Even though retired, Chris was and is a member of our family,” Whitehead said. “He was a great dog, great officer and will sorely be missed.”
But Chris wasn’t just a talented police dog. He was also a beloved member of the Matson family. David Matson’s wife, Caren Matson, said Chris had two different collars — one he wore at work and one he wore at home.
“It was funny because when he had his work collar on, he was like, ‘Oh, mommy, don’t embarrass me now,’” Caren Matson said. “But then he had his house collar on and he came and laid on the couch with me.”
By the time Chris retired, he seemed to love the entire Matson family. He spent time with the other dogs, the cats and, of course, the Matson’s daughter, Emily, 5.
“He just loved her,” Caren Matson said. “When he retired, she became his person. He would follow her all around. He slept in her bed, he hung out with her on the sofa.”
He also joined her for tea parties — and he let the little girl dress him for the occasion.
“Here’s this big, badass police dog wearing a princess necklace and a tiara, having a tea party,” David Matson said.
Right before Chris’ retirement, David Matson received a new K9 dog to work with. Jax, now 4, also moved into the Matson family home.
“He has some big paws to fill,” David Matson said.
He said Chris seemed to guide Jax. He got the feeling the older dog taught the younger one how to be a successful police dog as well as a part of the family.
“Chris and Jax had some good private conversations,” David Matson said. “Chris said something like, ‘Jax, this is what you do, pal. This is how you get through.’”
As of Monday, David Matson said Jax seemed to be mourning the loss of his old mentor and friend right along side the rest of the family.
He described Chris as irreplaceable, both to the city of Snellville and his family.
“He was a great dog,” David Matson said. “There will be a lot like him, but there will never be another one of him — ever.”