Oak Park’s village board rang in the new year at the first meeting of 2020 by honoring the retirement of a very special member of the police department – 8-year-old Zeke, a German Shepherd and Belgian Malinois mix.
Mayor Anan Abu-Taleb, in a proclamation read by Trustee Dan Moroney, honored the hardworking canine by designating that day, Jan. 13, 2020, as Zeke Day “in recognition of his dedication and hard work in the Village of Oak Park as a proud member of the Oak Park Police Department.”
After reading the proclamation, Zeke was awarded a very large bone.
Multiple police officers attended the meeting, including Zeke’s handler, Officer Nathaniel Leitl, and Deputy Chief Joseph Moran.
“We congratulate K9 Zeke and his handler, Nathaniel Leitl, for their service. Together they have served the village of Oak Park with integrity and loyalty,” Moran said. “And not only are they partners, they’re best friends.”
Leitl’s family, including his two young daughters and toddler niece, were also in attendance.
“We wish Zeke a happy retirement, chasing tennis balls and not bad guys,” Moran concluded.
Officer Leitl has been working with Zeke since January 2013. Zeke will spend his retirement living with the Leitl family.
“I am excited that he will be home with family,” Leitl said.
Zeke was born in Poland in 2011 and trained to be a dual purpose K9 officer.
“He was trained to find both narcotics and people,” Leitl said. “Along with narcotics searches, Zeke assisted the department with building searches, tracking, area searches, and article searches. This meant when a dangerous suspect who had committed a violent crime was hiding, Zeke could be utilized to find the subject in a safer and more efficient manner.”
According to Leitl, article searches involve finding weapons or other objects that were thrown or hidden that contained human odor on them.
One of the biggest finds of Zeke’s career, Leitl said, was a sniff search that resulted in the discovery of $800,000 in cash.
“We were called out one night to search a house and a vehicle inside of a garage,” Leitl said.
The team found a small number of narcotics inside the house and the stash of cash in the garage.
“Zeke alerted to the rear cargo area of a Jeep Cherokee in the garage,” Leitl said.
“A hydraulic trap was discovered, and the cash was concealed inside.”
Officer Leitl called working dogs and their noses “invaluable tools” for police departments.
“It has been a very rewarding experience working with Zeke,” he said. “I have learned a lot from Zeke, but the most important thing he has taught me is patience. I feel he really prepared me for parenthood.”
Zeke is retiring due to health problems that affect his ability to work. He has an abdominal mass that has caused him two serious bouts of anemia.
Leitl doesn’t expect the transition to family life to be a challenge, as he always took Zeke home after work.
“Zeke is looking forward to spending time at home with my family,” Leitl said. “He adores my two daughters and they will take good care of him while I’m at work.”
Unfortunately for Zeke, the good boy does not receive a police pension.