Former Ray County sheriff’s deputy fights to keep his four-legged canine partner

RICHMOND, Mo. -- There is a battle brewing in Ray County between a former Ray County sheriff's deputy and a non-profit organization that provides police dogs to the county.

David Benham spent his six years in law enforcement with the Ray County Sheriff's Department. The last two years and eight months, his partner was Diana, a 5-year-old tracking and drug detection dog.

“It's more than just that,” said Benham. “I spend time with her 24/7. She goes to work with me and she comes home with me, she's here and she's there. I am somewhere she is there."

But not anymore. When Benham left his job, he had to leave Diana behind too. Although Benham says she is family to him, his fiance and her daughter, Diana does not belong to them.

"I understand that it is upsetting to the handler," said Natalie Macey.

Macey, director of the Ray County Canine Committee, says she understands the loss is upsetting to Benham. The RCCC is a non-profit which owns Diana and leases her to the Ray County Sheriff's Department. Another of RCCC’s dogs works with the Richmond Police Department.

Macey says she did not expect to be in this position after Benham left his job just eight months into his second, two-year contract with the organization.

“Those dogs, that is not a pet,” said Macey. “That dog is to protect and serve the community,"

Experts say if the German Shepherd stays healthy, Diana has three to four years of service left before she would need to retire. The RCCC spent $8,500 on Diana and has offered Benham the opportunity to buy her for $5,000.

“I see that she is a work tool. That she is utilized for that,” said Benham. “I also see the fact that you let someone work with something for three years, you become accustomed to them. It’s not just a co-worker. She's here with my family."

Diana is being evaluated to see if she is a candidate to train with a new handler. Benham has set up a GoFundMe page to help him raise $5,500 before May 31.

Update: By Friday morning, the GoFundMe page had raised more than $5,000 to help the former deputy. Benham said additional funds raised will go towards Diana's food and a nice cozy retirement bed for her.