CHARLESTON, WV (WOWK) – One year ago, Charleston Police Officer K-9 Axel was killed in the line of duty, and the impact he made still has a strong hold on the Charleston Police Department, especially on his former handler Cpl. Josh Clendenin.

“He was a very brave dog. He would back down from nothing,” Cpl. Clendenin said.  “He was a very loyal dog. He took to me and my family immediately.”

Cpl. Clendenin worked with Axel for nearly a year until Aug. 27, 2022, when he was killed while pursuing an armed suspect.

“If it wouldn’t have been for him getting to the guy as quickly as he did and apprehending the guy, I personally believe the night would have been very different. I believe my family could have been burying me,” Cpl. Clendenin said.

K9 Axel gave his life and saved his handler. A year later, Cpl. Clendenin still remembers Axel as a dog without fear.

“It’s an odd feeling to know I truly owe my life to a K-9, that I’ll never be able to repay that debt. He sacrificed himself, and I still get to be here with my family, watch my kids grow up, have my career,” he said.   

Unlike many other states, it’s not considered a felony to assault or kill a K-9 in West Virginia. Despite recent proposals to amend this law, it did not pass beyond the Judiciary Committee in the 2023 Legislative Session.

“We expect these K-9s to be able to go into buildings and apprehend potentially dangerous suspects to save our lives, and everyone makes their own choice. If you choose to harm a K-9, I absolutely think there should be stiffer penalties in place,” Cpl. Clendenin said.

Axel stopped at nothing to keep his handler safe and serve the Charleston Police Department.

“His sacrifice that night has allowed me to continue being a dad, continue being a police officer,” Cpl. Clendenin said. “His sacrifice has really motivated me to continue being a better police officer just for his memory.”

Clendenin said Axel’s legacy lives on and makes him want to be better, including in how he cares for his current K-9 Diego.

“I learned so much from being Axel’s handler. I didn’t feel right not putting that knowledge to use and working a second dog because he just taught me so much. We think we’re teaching the dogs something but we’re not. They’re teaching us,” Cpl. Clendenin said.