• John McGary, Woodford Sun News Editor

A new partner – and pal

NICO is the new drug dog for the Versailles Police Department – and the new partner (and pal) of Officer John Costigan. Costigan’s previous partner, Gus, also a yellow Lab, died unexpectedly last November. Costigan calls Nico “goofy” and now hides his chewing gum whenever he’s out of his cruiser. (Photo submitted)

Once, not so long ago, John had a partner he loved very much.

He even took Gus on vacation.

Then Gus died.

“There were moments – I mean, I actually thought of quitting police work. That’s how serious it was. But I always wanted another dog after that brief moment of, I guess, mourning,” said Versailles Police Officer John Costigan.

Gus was the department’s drug dog, a 6-year-old yellow Labrador Retriever that worked, lived and traveled with Costigan. Last November, Gus died without warning; Costigan worked while mourning.

Asked whether that “moment” was brief, Costigan admitted it wasn’t.

“What is that old saying – you have to get back on the bike or horse or whatever, and ride along. You just have to go on. But I’m very glad that I did. It’s one of the best jobs in the world,” Costigan said.

That job got better on March 26, when Costigan picked up his new partner from the same North Carolina kennel where he got Gus. Nico, just 16 months old, is also a trained drug dog – and a yellow Lab.

“He reminded me a lot of Gus. I forgot where Gus started a long time ago, because it’s like raising a kid – you’re like, ‘Man, I can’t believe that.’ Because now I have to put leashes on him, I have to watch him. I would say in about six months, he’ll be mellowed out and kind of finished …” Costigan said.

Costigan said after the Sun’s Dec. 7 article about him and Gus, people began asking Versailles Police Chief James Fugate and Woodford Sheriff Johnny Wilhoit if they could donate funds for a new partner for him. They could, and did.

Costigan said after a month on the job, Nico is still a “green dog” - good at detecting drugs, and equally good at jumping on laps when he’s not on the job.

“When he works, he calms down. He knows he has a job to do, but if he gets out of the car, he’s all puppy,” Costigan said. “He was imprinted in narcotics, and that’s about it. As far as obedience, we had to start from scratch.”

Shortly after Costigan began training with Nico at the kennel, he was reminded that his new partner’s ways differ from those of Gus.

“Well, I park, and I have a divider in my car that I always left open for Gus. I could put a ham sandwich on my computer and he would look at it, but he never would touch it. This dog, he may eat my seat, because he’s a puppy,” Costigan said. “So I get out, go (inside), change shoes, come back out, and he was sitting in my front seat going, ‘I didn’t do nothing.’”

Costigan looked down, saw wrappers strewn about and quickly deduced that his new partner had eaten 20 or so pieces of gum containing an artificial sweetener dangerous to canines.

His new partner’s first day could have been his last, but Costigan poured a bit of peroxide in Nico’s mouth, Nico gave up the gum, and all was well, though Costigan now hides his chewing gum.

“That was one of our very first stories,” Costigan said.

Nico’s eagerness to leap landed him a nickname at the kennel: “Springs.”

Nico sometimes also, for some reason Costigan isn’t aware of, prances. Costigan noticed his odd gate during obedience training, when Nico was supposed to follow him without a leash.

“He does like a Tennessee Walker (horse) – sometimes he just walks,” Costigan said.

Asked whether Nico picked up the prancing habit at the kennel, Costigan replied, “No, he’s just goofy, I think. That’s not a trained thing. That’s just his personality, I guess.”

Nico’s training, including socialization in community settings, continues. Meantime, hijinks (high-jinks?) aside, Costigan hasn’t forgotten Nico’s predecessor, and not just because both dogs are yellow Labs. “There are moments when I’ll look back at him and see little moments of Gus,” Costigan said.

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