CENTERVILLE -- Joker jumped out of the SUV and dashed across the parking lot, greeting his handler with all the enthusiasm he could muster.
The 2-year-old German Shepherd was ready to work or play, even though it was obvious that putting weight on his left back leg was painful.
"That's what it's all about. He loves playing and working so much, he forgets about the pain," said Centerville Police K-9 Officer Jason Read, as he rubbed Joker's head.
Joker, who was donated to the police department when he was 8 weeks old, is going to have hip replacement surgery Oct. 1, to fix his left hip. If all goes well, Joker will be back to work before Christmas.
Joker was diagnosed several months ago with hip dysplasia, which is an abnormal formation of the hip socket that, in its more severe form, can eventually cause crippling lameness and painful arthritis of the joints.
Centerville Police Department has had all of its police dogs donated, Read said. To buy a police dog from a kennel costs between $8,000 and $12,000.
"He was the pick of the litter," Read said. Joker's father is Chaos, a K-9 that worked for Kaysville Police Department until 2011, when he was medically retired.
The surgery will cost $4,500. In six months to a year, Joker will have surgery to fix his right hip, and it will also cost $4,500.
The city has stepped up to the plate to pay for the first surgery, said Police Chief Neal Worsley. But donations are needed to pay for the second surgery, and the city will accept donations to pay for the first as well.
Worsley said the surgery is not in the city's budget, but when city officials looked at the surgery's cost versus buying a new dog and training it, they decided the department will be ahead by paying for the surgery.
Joker has been out on the streets the past six months and has been involved in more than 40 searches, which have resulted in 10 drug-related arrests.
Joker went through the K-9 narcotics training at Utah's Peace Officer Standard Training. He is a certified narcotics K-9 and recently helped find six pounds of marijuana in a car traveling from California to Ogden during a traffic stop on Legacy Parkway.
Read said finding the six pounds of marijuana, with a street value between $20,000 and $30,000, isn't what makes Joker an amazing narcotics police dog.
"Big amounts are easy to sniff out," Read said.
It's Joker's ability to sniff out small amounts of hidden illegal drugs, Read said.
Two weeks ago Joker sniffed out a pipe with marijuana that had been placed underneath cigarette packages inside a cigarette carton, which was stuck under the passenger seat in a car, Read said.
"That's when you know your dog is on his game and knows what he is doing," Read said.
Read said he saw Joker was having problems getting up and down during POST K-9 training. He took Joker to the veterinarian several times, only to be told Joker was having "growing pains."
Finally, Read said he demanded X-rays. That's when the vet learned about the hip dysplasia. Joker went on medication and a special diet. It didn't help, so Read sought a second opinion from Dr. Pam Nichols, in West Bountiful.
The news was not good. Joker needed surgery or his career as a police dog would be finished before December.
Read said that drive home from Nichols' office "was the longest ride home ever." He was going home to tell his wife and three children, who have helped raise Joker, they may have to put down their beloved canine.
His wife cried and told Read if they had to pay for the surgeries, they would find a way. Then the couple talked to their children about Joker's problem.
"And my 10-year-old son said he wanted Santa to bring Joker new hips instead of presents for Christmas," Read said. "That was the deal clincher."
Read then let Worsley know about Joker's problems, and that's when the city and fellow police officers rallied around Joker.
"The amazing thing is, when the word got out about Joker, the guys just stepped up," Read said. "Joker is part of us."
Several organizations, such as Utah Fraternal Order of Police and Police Wives of Utah, are planning fundraisers, Read said.
Strangers are also asking to help, he said. Donations can be made to Centerville City K-9 account at Zions Bank or at the police department.
Contact reporter Loretta Park at 801-625-4252 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @LorettaParkSE.