Peter McClelland was one of the first people to see Nero amid the chaos at the Barnstable house on April 12.
Yarmouth Police Sgt. Sean Gannon and his K-9 were both shot as they attempted to carry out an arrest warrant for Thomas Latanowich at a Marston Mills home.
Latanowich, who has an extensive criminal history, was wanted by authorities for violating his probation stemming from a 2010 conviction on drug and gun charges. He has been charged with killing Gannon that day.
Over three hours after the deadly confrontation, Nero remained unfound.
A retired Yarmouth officer and a veteran police dog trainer who served 30 years in the department, McClelland likely knew Nero better than anyone besides Gannon. He’d spent months training him before the Belgian Malinois joined the police ranks.
As a SWAT team searched the house, McClelland waited. When Nero was discovered in the attic, he was covered in blood.
The dog was shot once in the face. A bullet passed through his head and was lodged in his shoulder, leaving two holes in his trachea and puncturing his esophagus.
Nero was brought to a veterinary care facility in Dennis, and McClelland was with him.
“I ended up staying with him that night there,” McClelland recalled in an interview Friday. “I couldn’t leave him.”
When Nero was transferred to another hospital in Bourne, McClelland followed, spending six days and nights with his four-legged friend — sleeping beside him in his cage, giving him his medicine, keeping him calm.
An emergency surgery and a months-long recovery process followed, with people the world-over wondering how Nero would soldier on, according to the department’s Deputy Chief Steven Xiarhos.
On Thanksgiving, the department shared an uplifting development during a difficult year: Nero has fully recovered and “… is enjoying his retirement from police service back home” with his family: Gannon’s wife, Dara.
“We had to decide: Do we try to bring him back to police work?” Xiarhos said. “We believe he could do it, but Sean’s wishes were that if anything ever happened, to return him to his home, and that’s what we did.”
McClelland nursed Nero back to health and took him to his monthly medical appointments.
While he had experience working with dogs recovering from gunshot wounds, he said police had little protocol on how to manage the process in the immediate aftermath of the shooting.
“We had nothing to cover this kind of thing,” McClelland said. “They kind of left it to me and the K-9 guys to take care of Nero. They had their hands full.”
Nero’s recovery included two months of rest, and the doctor’s orders weren’t so easy for a dog of his caliber to follow, Xiarhos said. Playing fetch wasn’t allowed until the third month.
“The hardest thing … was trying to keep him calm because Nero, he’s only two-and-a-half years old,” Xiarhos said. “He’s a Belgian Malinolis. They’re highly driven work dogs.”
Still, McClelland said the support Nero and his family have received has been “never-ending,” starting with a truckload of food and other presents people left for him.
“[The veterinarians] treated him like he was one of their pets,” he said. “The care was just unbelievable.”
And the inquiries from people across the country and world have put the whole experience in a “different dimension,” McClelland said.
A police department in Tasmania named one of its newest K-9s “Gannon” after the fallen sergeant, and even asked Yarmouth police for one of the plush Nero toys the department is selling to help cover costs of a new training facility to be built in Gannon’s honor, according to Xiarhos.
Nero, both at home and abroad, has become a symbol of resilience, he said. Police have received over 100 photos of the Nero dolls in everyplace from cars to children’s beds.
Both Xiarhos and McClelland said Nero’s recovery has helped the department to navigate dark days.
But Xiarhos, pointing to the forthcoming training facility, said the story isn’t over yet.
“(When) we think about Sean, we think about his family, and Nero is the symbol of resiliency,” he said. “In our world of law enforcement, it’s [been] such a violent year, such a horrible year for us. Nero lived, so Sean lives on in Nero.”