K-9 partner carrying on fallen deputy's legacy
EAST BATON ROUGE - On May 30th, the family of Deputy Steven Whitstine was changed forever. On his way to work, the East Baton Rouge Sheriff's deputy died of heart failure, crashing his vehicle into a ditch on Pride-Port Hudson Road. His partner, K-9 Sixx, was with him during his final moments.
Whitstine trained multiple dogs before he passed away. He'd been training Sixx for months before the crash. While Sixx was a member of the Whitstine family, he was also an officer and his training needed to continue. Just days after their accident, Sixx was assigned a new partner, Corporal Ryan Distefano.
"Lt. Whitstine wasn’t just my boss, he was a brother. He was family. To lose him was to lose a big piece of that, our family," Distefano said. "When the opportunity was presented to me, I felt that it was an opportunity that I could take to carry on his legacy."
Distefano has served three years with the sheriff's office. When the Whistines handed Sixx over to him they asked him to not change his name. It's a promise Distefano kept.
"Whenever I first got him it was a little bit of a transition coming into a new family. I have three kids of my own. Any my four-year-old goes out every afternoon now and reads to him," said Distefano.
And Sixx is adjusting, getting used to a new handler.
"My affliction in my voice is different than Lt. Whistine's but whenever we first started training together it was a little harder," Distefano said. "He was like, 'wait a minute, I'm not used to listening to you doing things.'"
Sixx must train for 480 hours and they're currently working on his agility.
When asked what the best part was having a K-9 partner, Distefano said Sixx never gives up.
"They don't talk back," he said jokingly. "They never complain they do have bad days just like we do, get sick just like we do, the fact that I know, that no matter what, he's always going to be there. I'm never going to have to worry about looking behind to know that he's going to be there."
But for Distefano, Sixx is so much more than a dog or even a partner. He's a part of a legacy that will live on.
"To be able to finish what he started and to let his family see the dog go on and be able to be successful and to be able to let him be a part of my family was like for me to be able to carry on a piece of him with me," he said.
Corporal Distefano hopes to have Sixx ready to compete next year. After his training, Sixx will be ready to hit the streets and sniff out narcotics.