Hero K-9 dog Blaze is retiring from the NYPD after the effects of operations caught up with him
He's just 9 years old, but he's already retiring from the NYPD.
Blaze, a German shepherd, has been hampered by the lingering effects of three operations. One was to relieve the pain caused by a pinched nerve. A second operation removed an infected toe. The final surgery was for stomach bloat.
It's been a tough haul for one of the NYPD's top dogs.
"You could tell he was slowing down a bit," said his handler, Officer Benny Colvecchio. "He's a great partner, and we depend on him to help other cops, not just me. But we always want the dog to be 110%."
Blaze recently found a body in the rubble of a Bronx fire. Last July, he helped police thwart a hostage standoff at a Brooklyn auto parts store by locating one of the suspects hiding in a drop ceiling.
And he once held a gun in his mouth - captured in a photo by the Daily News - and used his sense of taste and smell to track down a suspect trying to blend in by playing dominoes with his twin brother.
Blaze, from the Czech Republic, joined forces with Colvecchio in 2003 and worked in Staten Island's 120th Precinct.
"You form a bond, an incredible bond," said Colvecchio, a 14-year veteran of the NYPD. "We just hit it off. I'm happy-go-lucky, and so is he. He's very friendly. I've got five kids - they love him."
The retiring dog will continue living with Colvecchio's family, just as he has for the past eight years.
In the meantime, the cop and two colleagues - Officers Paul Gitlin and Junior Nunez - are helping train Blaze's replacement.
It's no sure thing. Just like with two-legged members of the department, not every K-9 is cut out for police work.
A recent would-be police dog didn't work out and returned to civilian life.
"His leg gave out on a slippery floor during training," Colvecchio said. "After that, he shut it down. He just didn't want to work."