Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office K-9, praised for saving his handler’s life, retires

The K-9 excelled during multiple competitions, placing among the Top 3 in United States Police Canine Association contests throughout his career.

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — A beloved Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office K-9, who saved the life of his handler last year in a shootout with a suspect, is retiring after six years of service.

K-9 Taco, named by the daughter of his handler Corporal Matt Aitken, saved Aitken’s life in March 2023 as he was pursuing a burglary suspect. Aitken was shot three times; in the neck, hand and leg, and spent an exhaustive stretch of time in the hospital, according to previous coverage.

But it was Taco’s fast action that prevented him from losing his life, according to a Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office Facebook post recognizing the dog’s retirement. Taco was able to lunge at the suspect, which allowed Aitken’s partner to shoot him.

“Our relationship is never going to be the same. Taco did exactly what he has been trained to do,” Aitken said in an earlier press conference.

Taco began his career at the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office in 2018 and has since located 79 suspects. He, too, placed first in agility and second in 4-Man Team in 2020 at United States Police Canine Association competitions, the agency said.

He’s also become something of a sensation at the office.

The office tagged a series of Facebook posts, #TacoTuesday. The posts, written from K-9 Taco’s perspective, highlight and commemorate his fellow K-9 deputy’s actions in the field.

One post has him congratulating the retirements of two K-9s in 2021. He drowned his “sorrows with queso” after reflecting on the time they spent together on the force.

Another post has K-9 Taco spotlighting a stolen dog being found after someone grabbed the dog in front of a restaurant.

“That was NACH-O dog!” K-9 Taco exclaimed.

Aitken retired from the K-9 Unit and transferred to the Training Division, which prompted K-9 Taco’s retirement, according to the sheriff’s office Facebook post.

“Thank you K-9 Taco for your years of dedication and for being a hero. Enjoy retirement, you deserve it!” the sheriff’s office wrote.