Rico walks like a drunken sailor, his hind end teetering unsteadily, almost as if it's disconnected from his front.
But the Petaluma Police canine officer can walk. He's alive. Less than two months ago, that was uncertain.
Today, Rico is recovering at home from near-fatal injuries he suffered in a two-story leap during a training exercise.
On April 15, Rico burst through a barrier and jumped from a second-story landing, 20 feet or more, breaking his first vertebrae, rupturing a disc in his back and puncturing a lung. When his handler and partner, Officer Michael Page, reached him, Rico wasn't yelping or whimpering.
“I thought he was dead,” Page said this week, gently stroking Rico's head. “I was petting him, offering comfort. I thought he was dying and I just wanted to be there with him.”
But Page and the other police dog-handlers training that day didn't give up. They quickly fashioned a blanket into a gurney and rushed Rico to VCA Animal Care Center of Sonoma County in Rohnert Park, hoping against hope that the injuries weren't fatal.
Rico, an 8-year-old Belgian Malinois born in Holland, has been Page's law enforcement partner since the dog was 18 months old. They began working Petaluma's streets together in 2006, forming a strong bond at work and at home.
The surgeon told Page a blood clot from the herniated disc was putting pressure on Rico's spinal cord. A wing-like piece of his first vertebrae was broken off. The hard landing essentially popped one of his lungs.
“It was surgery or ... ” Page said, pausing, “or end-of-watch kind of stuff.”
Emergency veterinary care is expensive, and a positive outcome for Rico was in doubt even with surgery. Petaluma's budget problems are well known.
But police Chief Pat Williams “didn't bat an eye,” Page said. “He said, 'We don't have any money, but we'll get it done.'”