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When Joel Walter was working as a police officer in Rohnert Park, he knew he could count on his partner whenever he was in trouble. Now, the retired officer is returning the favor.

Walter's partner was a dog — a Belgian Malinois named Bosco — and the two of them patrolled their community together for three years, sniffing out drugs and helping to keep the peace.

When Bosco was retired in 2008, Walter adopted his partner and the bond between dog and handler grew even stronger.

But 10-year-old Bosco faces a dire illness. Last month, he was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, an aggressive cancer of the bone, and doctors were forced to amputate his right leg and shoulder. While Bosco's prognosis is hopeful, he must first go through a long course of chemotherapy. The operation and treatment are expected to run nearly $10,000 and, Walter, who is responsible for the cost and care of Bosco, has turned to the community they both served for help.

"He's my buddy," said Walter, 48, who retired from the public safety department in 2012 because of a medical condition. "He's a member of our family, and I'd do anything for him. I know he would do anything for me."

Walter said he knew Bosco was special from the first time they met when both were in K-9 police dog handling school and Bosco broke open a door during a training exercise.

"We had a guy hiding in the room in a bite suit," said Walter, describing the protective gear law enforcement officers wear to train dogs to attack suspects. "The suspect was supposed to open and close the door quickly to let Bosco know where he was. But it was an old building and when the guy shut it, Bosco just rammed his head against it and busted it down."

In another exercise, Walter said Bosco leaped and pulled himself up and on to the back of a fire engine. The volunteer suspect was hiding on the roof of the truck.

Walter came to rely on his canine partner in real life-and-death situations. Once, when they were assisting with crowd control, a drunk suspect got loose while other officers were handcuffing him and lunged for Walter's gun holster. Thankfully, Bosco jumped in.

"That could have been a terrible outcome," he said. "There was a big crowd there, and when they saw what Bosco did to the one guy, nobody wanted any part of him."

As with many handlers, Walter asked for and was given custody of Bosco when he was retired and they have lived together with Walter's wife, Sharon, their three daughters and two other dogs (a poodle and a Chihuahua).

But early this year, Walter noticed Bosco was limping and that's when the "nightmare" as he calls it, began. The first treatments didn't cure the limp and the veterinarian recommended X-rays. That's when they found the tumor.

The cancer, which is extremely painful and strikes mostly large-dog breeds as they age, is almost always treated with amputation followed by a course of radiation.

Doctors at the Rohnert Park branch of the VCA Animal Care Center did the amputation on Valentine's Day, and while X-rays have not showed conclusively that the cancer has spread, they said that with osteosarcoma it's more than likely already metastasized.

"It's a very aggressive cancer. Ninety percent of the patients we see metastasize to the lungs," said Dr. Danielle O'Brien, Bosco's oncologist. "It's so microscopic, we can't see it. If we can see it with our eyes, then we're facing a much poorer prognosis."

O'Brien said that with the amputation, the lack of visible signs of cancer elsewhere in his body and the course of chemo — six doses over the next five months — Bosco has a chance of surviving for a year or longer.

It's a prognosis that comes with a big price tag — each dose of chemo can run $500 to $1,000, depending on complications and other factors.

Knowing his family was facing the extra expense, Walter reached out to the community for help. So far, he said, they raised almost the entire $6,000 amount for the amputation surgery.

One area nonprofit group that assists handlers and their dogs found out about Bosco and jumped in. Cover Your Retired K-9, which helps dog handlers buy equipment like bullet-proof vests for their dogs and runs an emergency care fund for retired law enforcement dogs, donated $1,000. On Monday, the group posted a fundraising link on its website www.coveryourK9.org called "Go To Bat For Bosco".

"We were really moved by Bosco's plight," said co-founder Louise Tully of San Mateo. "We wanted to not only help him but to raise awareness in the community about these amazing dogs that have served them."

Tully said that any extra funds they collected would go to help other dogs in need.

Walter has been keeping a close eye on his best friend and on a recent trip to a local park, he reaches out to steady him on his three legs. But Bosco manages to keep his balance, flashing his bright, intelligent eyes and wagging his tail fiercely.

"He's still got life left," said Walter who is hoping the treatment gives him and Bosco what they both really want — more time together.

"I'm really blown away by the response we've gotten. But no matter what, I would have found a way."

You can reach Staff Writer Elizabeth M. Cosin at 521-5276 or elizabeth.cosin@pressdemocrat.com

Note: To donate, visit the fundraising link on website <a href="http://www.coveryourK9.org">www.coveryourK9.org</a> for "Go To Bat For Bosco".

You can also mail your donations to:

Go to Bat for Bosco

c/o Police &amp; Working K9 Foundation

P.O. Box 620629

Woodside, CA 94062

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