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K-9 Shield still misses Officer Craig Lehner, but he's adjusting

Shield still looks for Officer Craig E. Lehner.

When the 4-year-old German shepherd spends a day with another K-9 unit officer, the dog looks around as if searching, but Lehner is nowhere to be found.

"He still misses Craig. Whenever I take him out, he starts looking," K-9 Officer John Kujawa said. "We all miss Craig."

Lehner, 34, died in a diving accident during an Oct. 13 police underwater recovery team practice in the  Niagara River waters off the Bird Island Pier. His body was recovered five days later in the vicinity of  the International Railway Bridge.

Since then, Shield has been without a permanent handler and has been staying at the Amherst Boarding Kennel. The absence of Lehner, Kujawa explained, caused the already-intense and enthusiastic dog to become "rambunctious."

But that is changing.

"I recently took him up to Canada for a day of training with the Niagara Regional Police Department, and after that, the people at the kennel told me, 'You would not believe how much he has changed,' " Kujawa said. "He's acting a lot better and listening. He's not as rambunctious."

The Niagara Regional Police Department provides training to the dogs and handlers of Buffalo's K-9 unit.

Shield passed several tests during his day of training. They included searching for drugs and other objects and going through a building seeking out a person hidden in the structure.

"In the open search, we hid a guy out in the woods and he found him in two minutes. He barked and he did not bite, which is what's supposed to happen," Kujawa said. "Shield did really well."

Once Shield is assigned to a new partner, bonding will start and the dog will further settle down, the officer said.

"He'll be back out on the beat and going home at night with his handler," Kujawa said.

Buffalo Police Commissioner Daniel Derenda said that assignment is expected to happen soon.

"Shield is an exceptional dog and an asset to the K-9 unit and will always have a place in the department," Derenda said.

Sean Kirst: A photographer captures lasting image of Officer Craig Lehner

In the meantime, Shield will be making another trip to Canada for additional training Jan. 9 with Kujawa and K-9 Officer Anthony Marshall.

As for Lehner, he is not forgotten in Buffalo or across the border, where he received his training as a dog handler in 2016. Niagara Regional Police Sgt. Scott Johnstone, who supervises the training, has paid a special tribute to the late officer.

"When I was at the training, Scott showed me a tattoo he had put on his arm in honor of Craig. It was 'K9-43,' " Kujawa said.

K9-43 was Lehner's police radio call number. Lehner was a fan of tattoos and had a number of them.

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