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Helping Kayda Catch the Bad Guys Again

Kayda Petersen, Surf City K-9 patrol
Kayda Petersen, Surf City K-9 patrol. Photos by John Joyner/NC State Veterinary Medicine

Kayda Petersen is a valued member of the police department in Surf City, N.C. She proudly displays her police badge just below her throat, where it shines brightly from her collar.

Kayda is part of the two-member Surf City K-9 patrol — she’s the canine member. The human member is also her owner, Cpl. Eric Petersen. The first thing you need to know about them is that they are inseparable. It’s a true partnership.

Their relationship started eight years ago, when Peterson adopted Kayda, a black Labrador who loves people, with the thought of going into K-9 police work. He moved from the police department in North Topsail Beach to Surf City with the goal of establishing a K-9 unit.

It was a leap of faith. There was no budget for such a unit at the small department, and while Petersen had the support of department leadership, it was mostly up to him to make it work. Petersen had no experience training working dogs. They were really starting at square one, but they had one thing on their side: Petersen’s determination.

It was a challenge at first — ”the obedience was not there at first,” he said with a smile — but he was willing to work, and Kayda was eager to please. To say they are bonded is an understatement. The two are together just about 24/7, since Kayda lives with the Petersen family. “I spend more time with her than I do with my wife and kids,” said Petersen.

Petersen began training Kayda on his own time, and Kayda and Petersen’s partnership showed enough promise that the department agreed to send him to handler school. That’s when things really started to take off. Petersen became a certified trainer and Kayda became a serious working dog, responding to commands with military precision. By 2012, they were officially the Surf City K-9 patrol unit and have been working together ever since.

It’s still a small police department and Petersen performs other police duties besides his work with Kayda. But when the occasion calls, they are ready.

“She’s a tool that I have with me,” he said. “She helps out with search warrants, drug sniffing, tracking, searching for missing people and bad guys,” he said. And, he adds, her obedience is now never an issue.

These days, Kayda is helpful not just to the citizens of Surf City, but many other nearby communities. Petersen points out that there is only one other working K-9 police dog in Pender County, so he and Kayda have been called on to assist with cases for police departments in North Topsail Beach, Topsail Beach, Holly Ridge, Richlands, Wrightsville Beach, Jacksonville, New Bern and for the Pender County Sheriff’s Office.

Cpl. Eric Petersen and Kayda.

“I can expect to deploy for another agency at least once a month and sometimes as much as three or four times a month. I’m always willing to deploy day or night and am on call 24/7,” Petersen said. “One of my favorite sayings to any officer out of jurisdiction is have a dog, you will travel.”

Watching Petersen put Kayda through her paces, it’s clear she hangs on his every word. Responding to her beloved ball toy as a reward, she responds to his various one-word commands instantly and happily.

But in July, after one of Kayda’s routine dental cleanings, Petersen got disturbing news. The examination revealed an abnormal mass underneath Kayda’s tongue. Tests determined that it was cancerous, a squamous cell carcinoma, one of the most common oral tumors in dogs.

The cancer affects the outer layer of skin cells, as well as the linings of the respiratory and digestive tracts. It is an aggressive cancer that demands immediate attention. Kayda was referred to the NC State Veterinary Hospital where she received compassionate care from expert oncologists and soft tissue surgeons.

When he got the news, Petersen was understandably upset and concerned. The financial resources available to fight Kayda’s disease were limited. The police department’s K-9 unit budget is quite small, and as Kayda’s owner, Petersen contributes as much as he can to her treatment. But the task was daunting.

That’s why when Petersen learned that he and Kayda were eligible for assistance from the Petco Foundation and the Blue Buffalo Cancer Treatment Fund, it was such welcome news.

The Petco Foundation and Blue Buffalo have created cancer treatment funds at leading veterinary hospitals like NC State. The treatment funds help owners like Petersen defray the cost of treating companion animal cancers. These generous investments help pet parents focus on providing the best possible care for their pets rather than the cost of care. The help will be invaluable to the Surf City K-9 unit.

Surgery to remove the tumor was performed in August by Marine Traverson, assistant professor of soft tissue and oncologic surgery.  The original expectation was that it would also be necessary for Kayda to undergo additional radiation treatment to make sure that all traces of cancer were removed. However, Traverson found that she was able to achieve complete excision of the tumor. As a result, the decision was made to forego radiation therapy and simply monitor the situation for any recurrence of Kayda’s cancer. She was able to return to active duty in a matter of weeks rather than months.

Petersen sums the situation up in the direct style befitting a law enforcement professional: “To both the Petco Foundation and Blue Buffalo, and to NC State, thank you.”

~Steve Volstad/NC State Veterinary Medicine