Standing off to the side yesterday, Sgt. Ronald A. Esworthy wiped away the tears that flowed under his dark sunglasses, too choked up to give his speech in a memorial to his recently departed partner.
Later, he cried again as co-worker Linda Voll, an administrative aide in the Howard County Sheriff's Office, walked over to give him a hug.
"I remember when Rebel came," she said. "He was a good dog."
"He was that," Esworthy said.
Esworthy and Rebel, a black Labrador retriever, spent 12 years working together, the first canine unit in the Howard sheriff's department. Yesterday, co-workers honored that relationship and Rebel - who was put to sleep July 5 because of failing health - with a memorial plaque outside the Howard County Circuit Courthouse in Ellicott City.
The plaque, unveiled yesterday, fronts a 6-foot Japanese red maple tree that had been planted a few weeks ago in Rebel's memory.
The courthouse memorial is "our way of showing our gratitude to one of our own for a job well done," Sheriff Charles M. Cave said.
The brief service drew deputies, family members, two circuit court judges and Howard County State's Attorney Marna L. McLendon to the side of the building.
"Just because he has four legs doesn't mean we aren't affected by his passage," Sgt. Randy Roby said before the memorial. "We're bringing some closure here."
Esworthy, a 28-year veteran, said he had always dreamed of being a "canine man" and decided to request the assignment in early 1986. He took another dog through the academy first, but that dog, Joe, a German shepherd, had hip problems, he said.
He got Rebel on June 19, 1986, three days before his oldest daughter, Stefanie, was born.
Rebel, who wore a badge on his collar, was trained to search for bombs, explosives and guns, and would sit when he "alerted" on a weapon, Esworthy said.
One of the duo's jobs was to check courthouse mail and packages every day. Over the 12 years and 10 months the two worked together, they checked 1.5 million pieces of mail and 300,000 packages, he said. They also would go to other counties when needed, and they checked banks and abortion clinics when there was a threat or suspicious package.
"You have to believe in that dog 100 percent. There is no 90 percent," Esworthy said. "When he locates a find, he tells you."
But Rebel got old, and one day in 1998 Esworthy returned to his Sykesville home after a shopping trip and found the 75-pound dog seizing. Rebel retired Sept. 22 that year. The team has since been replaced by Deputy Don Chase and Bullet.
By July 5, Rebel's health had deteriorated and he was put to sleep. He was 15.
Like the passing of any other officer, Rebel's death was noted with e-mail notifications and sympathy cards.
Co-workers put together the memorial service yesterday, complete with color guard and a photo of the Labrador retriever perched on the base of a light pole.
"It almost has more to do with Ronnie's love and how he treated the dog," said Mimi Mathews, the budget officer for the sheriff's office and an ordained Episcopal deacon. Mathews said the opening prayer. "The dog was more than family, and he was a hard-working dog."