Longtime search-and-rescue K9 retires

  • Officer Corey Kaneko (far left) and Sgt. James Steffen (center right) with incoming K9 officer Scout (center left) and retiring officer Falcon (far right). (Photo courtesy Hawaii Police Department/Special to Hawaii Police Department)

A Hawaii Police Department investigator retired from the force Friday in order to spend more time getting belly-rubs and playing fetch.

K9 Falcon, a 9-year-old Labrador mix, served for more than seven years as a search-and-rescue dog, tracking and finding missing people around East Hawaii.


Sgt. James Steffen, who was Falcon’s handler for more than six years before being promoted to sergeant, said Falcon was deployed at least 50 times to track missing children and endangered adults during his career.

“There’s always different levels of success,” Steffen said. “But he’s always been an invaluable tool.”

Falcon was one of three police dogs that were secured for the police department via funding from the nonprofit Friends of the Missing Child Center. However, in 2020, that funding source dried up, said Amanda Leonard, coordinator for the state Attorney General’s Missing Child Center.

With Falcon approaching retirement age, Leonard said the police department had no immediate way to secure funding for a replacement. But that year, she said, her office was approached by a newly founded nonprofit, the Hawaii Island K9 Association, which offered to provide funding for Falcon’s eventual replacement.

After two years, the K9 Association was able to raise $16,000 for the purchase and training of a 20-month-old shepherd mix named Scout, said association founder Tammy Passmore.

“Police departments across the county are having to do more with less these days,” said Assistant Police Chief Kenneth Quiocho. “So, organizations like the K9 Association are a lifesaver for us.”

Officer Corey Kaneko, who was Falcon’s most recent handler and will be Scout’s handler, said Scout should be able to begin work around the end of the month, depending on how the bonding process between dog and handler goes. But, he said, Scout has a “good work drive,” which was a key factor in his selection by the department.

“Every dog has the ability to track,” Kaneko said. “It’s just that some track better than others, and Scout shows a high drive to track. I’m thankful for getting the opportunity to go to the Houston K9 Academy and be able to make an in-person selection of Scout from three quality choices.”

Scout — trained in Houston, Texas, as a “live-find and tracking/cadaver” canine — will fill the same role in the department as Falcon, Kaneko said.

As for Falcon, he will retire to live with Steffen and his family.

While Falcon did not answer questions about his retirement plans, Steffen said the dog plans to do “absolutely nothing.”

Email Michael Brestovansky at mbrestovansky@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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