3 years after his death, Jason Ellis' K-9 partner helps family remember fallen officer

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- A Bardstown Police officer was murdered three years ago Wednesday, and his killer is still on the loose. Among those he left behind was a K-9 partner -- Figo -- and since Officer Jason Ellis' death, Figo has been providing comfort to those still mourning Ellis' loss.

On a sunny afternoon in Nelson County, Kentucky, Figo chases his tennis ball -- and cools down in the shade.

"He's really very sweet," said Kris Phillips, mother-in-law of the late Officer Jason Ellis.

"There's that other side of him," Phillips said. "He's still got that police in him."

The German Shepherd is living the retirement life, after his time on the force was suddenly cut short three years ago, when his partner, Officer Jason Ellis, was shot to death in the line of duty.

"He was very dedicated," said Bardstown Police Chief Rick McCubbin. "He loved the position that he held."

Ellis joined the Bardstown Police Department in 2006 and became a K-9 officer about two years later. 

"He wanted drugs off the street," Phillips said. "That was his goal and he needed the dog to help him with that -- and Figo did."

For years, Ellis and Figo made drug busts.

"They were constantly making some big arrests," McCubbin said.

They were partners in every sense of the word, both at work and at home -- but they weren't together on May 25, 2013. 

"Jason was not in his assigned vehicle that night," McCubbin said. "It was having some work on it."

It's wasn't as safe for the dog to ride in a regular squad car, so Ellis left Figo at home. McCubbin says even if the dog had been there, it probably wouldn't have made a difference. 

Crosses, flags and a wreath now sit in the overgrown grass where Ellis was ambushed. When Ellis stopped on the exit off the Bluegrass Parkway in the early morning hours to clear debris in the road, someone was waiting. The 33-year-old was shot and killed. The identity of the perpetrator remains a mystery.

Among the hundreds who were there as Officer Ellis was laid to rest, was Figo. 

"It's traumatic," said Phillips. "But then seeing the dog -- I didn't even think about the dog until that moment, and then I thought, 'He's hurting like we are.'"

Then came the moment when Figo jumped up to his partner's casket without any command. 

Kyler Wright became a K-9 officer shortly after Ellis' death. Given his own relationship with his partner, Zues, he says he now understands what happened.

"It was unbelievable and it was heartbreaking at the time, but knowing now the kind of bond you have with these dogs, you can understand why," said Officer Kyler Wright of Bardstown Police Department.

"I spoke with Ellis and showed him my interest in becoming a K-9," Wright said. "He always thought I would be a good one."

Wright says he wanted to follow in his friend's footsteps, and, "keep the K-9 work going...since Figo was retired after the murder."

Phillips, says the family didn't know what it would be like when Figo stopped working. The transition for police dogs isn't always easy. 

"He... it was like he knew," Phillips said. "He just took his badge off and laid it down."

She says Figo became a comfort for Ellis' wife Amy and their two young sons. 

"The kids just thought it was awesome," Phillips said. "Distracted them too -- to have the dog around and part of Jason. It was a good thing. It was good for everybody."

Figo now lives with Philips, because she can take him pretty much everywhere she goes. 

"He's aged," Phillips said. "This was hard on him. He's aged a lot the last three years."

Arthritis is kicking in and Philips fears his days are numbered. 

She says when the time comes, Figo deserves to be honored like his partner -- and laid to rest at his side.

"They were a team," Phillips said. "Like Jason, he's a hero, you know?" 

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