GAINESVILLE - A familiar canine presence will be missing from the Hall County Courthouse after the Tuesday death of Olaf, a German Shepherd whose daily job was to sniff out explosives.
Olaf had been battling cancer, and had undergone surgery, but he couldn't overcome the illness and was euthanized, according to Hall County Sheriff's officials.
Olaf's handler since 2008 was Deputy Rusty Blalock. He said his partner not only worked at the courthouse five days a week, but also he was called into duty for some special assignments.
"We've done 50 sweeps with the Secret Service Uniform Division for [U.S.] Vice-presidents, and of course for the governor," said Blalock.
One of the most high-profile assignments locally was a 2006 Lumpkin County murder case. Olaf was able to sniff out a handgun that had been used in the crime; it was buried in a pasture.
"[He did] over 830 searches, safety sweeps of the courthouse, well over 25 bomb threats, and just all sorts of very good safety things for the community," said Blalock.
Even though Olaf won't be on the job any longer, the courthouse won't go unprotected. Other canines will fill his position on a temporary basis, at least for the next month. In about 30 days, another bomb sniffing dog will be under Blalock's care. That canine officer's name is Star, a female black lab.
Star is a retired Marine Corps bomb dog, according to Blalock.
"She just got back from Afghanistan in October," said Blalock. "We've been training with her, getting her ready." He said he feels she'll be ready for state certification in about a month's time.
Of course, losing Olaf after five years is more than just a professional loss for Blalock. Olaf became part of his family, living at his home, as well as accompanying him to work daily.
"I have spent just untold amount of hours with Olaf, training him and at home with the family, and he definitely was a gentle gaint."
Blalock said his three children understand that Olaf was suffering, since the cancer had spread throughout his body.
"Olaf just had surgery last week [at Lance Animal Hospital]and his spleen was removed [because of the cancer] and they had seen the pain that he was in," said Blalock. "They understood it was time, and it was the correct thing to do."
Still, Blalock said his family will miss their companion.
"The youngest one just turned 10 and he just asked basically if Olaf was hurt anymore and if Olaf was in heaven," said Blalock. "And I assured him that he wasn't hurting any more...and that he was in heaven."