‘He was part of the family’
One month after he lost his partner and pal, Versailles Police Officer John Costigan sat down to talk about him, often using present tense to describe a creature he loved – and still does.
Gus was a yellow Labrador Retriever that had served as a drug dog for the Versailles Police Department (VPD) since 2012. Costigan has been with the VPD since 2006, before that, serving with the University of Kentucky Police Department and the Marine Corps.
Gus and John met after Costigan, with assistance from then-VPD Chief Johnny Wilhoit, Joe Graviss and others, raised the $10,000 needed to purchase a highly-trained drug dog. Over the next five years, until Gus’s unexpected and sudden death on Nov. 4 from a cancer of the blood vessels, they worked drug cases across Central Kentucky, including investigations for four federal agencies.
Gus was also, along with wife Marydyth and son Brennan, a member of the Costigan family. He lived with them, traveled with them, and, in general, lived up to a dog’s reputation as man’s best friend, Costigan said.
“He goes on family vacations,” Costigan said, slipping into present tense again. “My other dogs, they go to the kennel.”
They spent eight days apart in the five years they worked and lived together, and those were only because Costigan was in New Mexico.
Costigan said Gus was popular with other agencies, children and even private companies because of his training as a “passive alert dog” and a gentle nature that found favor with everyone – even suspects.
“They just liked him because most police dogs (can) bite you. He never bit you. We could go into second-grade classes and …” Costigan said, then paused to collect himself.
“He wouldn’t bite you,” Costigan repeated.” “Even the bad guys would say, ‘He’s a pretty dog,’” Costigan said.
A mark of Costigan’s love for Gus is a pre-interview, page-and-a-half, single-spaced narrative he wrote about how they met, what they did together, and why a six-year-old Lab was so loved.
Many of the anecdotes are funny, like a passage describing Gus’s smile, or when Costigan, in a hotel on duty with Gus, was mistaken for a blind man.
“I guess I was blind. I could not see those hidden drug odors coming through the doorways of the hotel rooms,” Costigan wrote.
Other happy memories include the many times Costigan was approached by children who knew Gus’s name, but, with Costigan covering up his name tag, had no idea of the identity of his handler.
Costigan said Gus never lost a case, including those in federal courts, but his efficiency was low on the list of reasons of why Gus was cherished by his human partner.
On the evening of Nov. 3, Costigan played ball with Gus, who seemed just fine. The next day, after their shift was over, Gus threw up a bit in the back of Costigan’s cruiser, which he’d done once or twice a year. Gus didn’t want to eat his evening meal, so they lay together on a couch and Costigan gave him water by hand to try to settle his stomach. The only injury Gus suffered on the job, save for a cut paw, was an occasional bleeding tail from the wagging of a happy dog, Costigan said.
Gus died in his sleep in his dog bed, which was on the floor next to the Costigans’ bed. That he apparently didn’t suffer is of some comfort to his partner, who misses him dearly. “It’s kind of lonely – empty back seat,” Costigan said.
On Costigan’s Facebook page, there are dozens of pictures of Gus: sitting on Costigan while Costigan peers around him to watch TV; curled up in bed with Brennan; wearing funny hats; leaping into the South Carolina surf to chase a ball thrown by his partner.
There is also a photo of a gift from neighbor Ashli Evans – a wooden cross with an inscription honoring a well-loved Lab that Costigan said, “got me in the feels.”
It describes Gus as a best friend and partner and includes the date of his “end of watch” -- the date Gus passed away. Inscribed on the plaque is the phrase, “You were our favorite hello and our hardest goodbye…”
Costigan said he hopes to get another K9 partner, but knows there’s no replacing Gus.
Asked what he’d tell his partner and friend if he had the chance, Costigan paused to collect himself, then quietly said, “That he did good. He was a good boy.”