Joker, the Bradley County Sheriff's Office K-9, is home this weekend with his human family after undergoing surgery for his gunshot wounds and some procedures in preparation for possible future treatments, according to officials.
"As of today, K-9 Joker is continuing to rest and recover at home," sheriff's office spokesperson Alana Shell said Friday.
Joker's injuries stem from shots fired by six suspects who were fleeing authorities behind the Toyota of Cleveland dealership at Exit 20 off of Interstate 75 on Sept. 22.
Joker's boss, Sheriff Steve Lawson, said he was happy the four-legged officer was now home with the family of his handler, Bradley County Deputy Eduardo Choate.
"We are blessed to say that K-9 Joker was released from the hospital," Lawson said Friday. "However, K-9 Joker still has a long road of recovery ahead of him and will need our prayers while he heals over the next few weeks."
Lawson noted Joker's grave wounds.
"It is important that we reiterate how serious his injuries are," the sheriff said. "Although he is showing signs of improvement, he is still in serious condition and we will continue to support K-9 Joker and the Choate family during this time."
The incident that led to Joker's injuries started with a call at 1:40 a.m. on Sept. 22 in Cleveland, Tennessee, for police to investigate the burglary of a vehicle at Park Oaks Apartments on Harrison Pike where a white Jeep Gladiator — reported stolen out of Hamilton County — sped north on Georgetown Road toward I-75, according to authorities.
The four juvenile occupants of the Jeep fled into the woods behind Toyota of Cleveland as city and county officers pursued.
During the pursuit, Choate sent the K-9 after the fleeing suspects, who allegedly shot him in the head area. Deputies heard the gunshots, carried the wounded dog out and raced him to an emergency veterinary hospital in Chattanooga for treatment and emergency surgery.
Choate was unharmed.
Joker spent almost a week at the Chattanooga animal hospital before he was released.
"Due to the test results and a second opinion, it has been determined that the best option will be to send K-9 Joker home with a feeding tube, allow him to heal for five to 12 weeks and reevaluate him afterward to see if he is a viable candidate for jaw reconstructive surgery," Bradley officials posted on the sheriff's office social media page Tuesday. "He will be released from the vet tomorrow and is very excited to be going home with his family."
The post included a photo of Joker that Shell said was taken during his first walk outside after being shot. He got to go home the next day.
Joker has remained himself throughout the ordeal, officials said, noting "even though he is hurt, his personality has shined through."
Meanwhile, there are no guarantees Joker will be able to return to duty, but there is a backup plan.
"If K-9 Joker cannot return to work, Sheriff Steve Lawson will ask the county commission to allow K-9 Joker to retire and comfortably live out the rest of his life with the Choate family," Shell said Friday.
Joker has plenty of fans among his fellow officers on two legs.
"Joker means a lot to Deputy Choate and to this department, but each person on that team is attached to him as well. Joker is a true hero and he would do it again, not only because of his personality but because he is exceptionally well trained to do his job," the K-9's sheriff's office posted on social media.
Shell and Chattanooga police spokesperson Elisa Myzal said last week the six juveniles involved — ages 13-17 — were taken into custody in Chattanooga later the same day as the shooting at an apartment on Dahlia Street in Chattanooga.
The six were charged by Cleveland police with auto burglary, conspiracy to commit auto burglary and felony evading arrest, and charged by Bradley authorities with theft over $10,000, conspiracy to commit theft over $10,000 and attempted intentional killing of an animal in Bradley County Juvenile Court.
Contact Ben Benton at email@example.com or 423-757-6569. Follow him on Twitter @BenBenton.