BUFFALO, N.Y. – Deceased Buffalo Police Officer Craig Lehner loved his police service dog (PSD), K9 Shield.

The pair began working together last September, spending hours every day training in a South Buffalo agility park, reported WIVB.

The pair was inseparable, Buffalo Police K9 Commander Salvatore Losi said Tuesday.

“Craig infused into that dog his own personality,” Losi said. “That dog is fiercely loyal.”

Lehner was also a member of the Buffalo Police Underwater Recovery Team. As a result, he was participating in a training exercise in the Niagara River on Friday. Consequently, while Lehner was training, Shield was patiently waiting for him in his air-conditioned kennel in the patrol car.

But Shield’s handler never returned.

Losi was there when the frantic search for Lehner began. He said he was nervous to let Shield out of the patrol car, since most K9s only listen to their handlers.

“As soon as I opened the door, [Shield] knocks me out of the way, and goes down to the river and starts searching,” Losi said. “It chokes you up.”

“He sensed that something was wrong,” Losi added.

Law Enforcement Today reported the following details In Memoriam:

Officer Lehner, 34, drowned during a monthly training exercise with the department’s Underwater Recovery Team. Lehner, who has been a member of the team for only one year, went under water for his training dive using his department issued scuba gear. He was attached to a rope tender and also had a “pony” emergency air tank attached to him as he entered the swift waters of the Niagara River. The dive master had a safety diver standing by as well as other dive team members.

It is currently unknown how, but his safety cable separated and it appears that Lehner had been swept down river. The depth of the water at the training site was 25 feet deep with fair visibility. A search for him along the shoreline down river was not immediately successful. After three days of searching came the determination that the rescue efforts turned to a recovery. His body was finally recovered from the murky depths two days later.

Because of Lehner’s dedicated training with Shield, the PSD will likely remain a member of the Buffalo Police Department’s K-9 unit.

Lehner’s family wants the department to find Shield a dedicated partner, like Lehner, Losi said, but it won’t be easy.

“We should not be able to work him the way we did,” Losi said. “If the definition of professionalism is no matter what the circumstances are, then the dog certainly reflects that.”

Shield is named after Officer James Shields, who was killed in a traffic collision 15 years ago this month trying to chase down a robbery suspect.

As we grieve the loss of Craig Lehner, we also wish the best for Shield and his future handler at the Buffalo Police Department.

(Photo: WIVB Twitter)