A memorial statue of K-9 Axe, who was killed in the line of duty in November 2018, stands at the southwest corner of 11 Mile Road and Jefferson Avenue, outside the St. Clair Shores Police Department.

A memorial statue of K-9 Axe, who was killed in the line of duty in November 2018, stands at the southwest corner of 11 Mile Road and Jefferson Avenue, outside the St. Clair Shores Police Department.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes


K-9 memorial installed at Police Department

By: Kristyne E. Demske | St. Clair Shores Sentinel | Published December 4, 2020

 St. Clair Shores police officers and their K-9s stand at the newly installed K-9 memorial Dec. 2. Pictured, from left, are officer Gerald Chomos and Wylie, officer Tom Price and Maz, and officer Travis Kaufman and Rocky.

St. Clair Shores police officers and their K-9s stand at the newly installed K-9 memorial Dec. 2. Pictured, from left, are officer Gerald Chomos and Wylie, officer Tom Price and Maz, and officer Travis Kaufman and Rocky.

Photo provided by officer Tom Price

 The K-9 memorial was designed in the image of Axe by Lena Toritch, a sculptor with Young Fine Art Studio in Utah.

The K-9 memorial was designed in the image of Axe by Lena Toritch, a sculptor with Young Fine Art Studio in Utah.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes

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ST. CLAIR SHORES — Quietly, just before a snowstorm, a tribute to a hero and his brethren appeared.

While Axe, the police K-9, made his presence known whenever he stepped into a room, the statue in his likeness entered the city without any fanfare, more than two years after his death in the line of duty.

It wasn’t supposed to be that way. The statue honoring past K-9s of the St. Clair Shores Police Department should have been installed earlier this year, but between a pandemic that prevented crowds for an unveiling ceremony and protests in St. Clair Shores and across the country, its installation was delayed.

“With the COVID restrictions and the protests nationwide, with the statues getting damaged, we were afraid that something might happen to the statue,” said officer Tom Price, the handler for K-9 Axe, who was killed in the line of duty Nov. 4, 2018, and in whose likeness the statue guarding the Police Department at the corner of 11 Mile Road and Jefferson Avenue was constructed.

“It’s been a long time coming,” he said. “It’s been two years.”

The statue was designed by Lena Toritch, a sculptor with Young Fine Art Studio in Salt Lake City.

She said the Police Department approached her to create a K-9 memorial representing all St. Clair Shores K-9 heroes to be made in the likeness of Axe.

“They had a pretty good idea” of what they wanted, she said. “They wanted to see the dog show its expression, a more dynamic pose. The dog is standing and you can see his alertness.”

Toritch said she has designed many monuments in honor of K-9s. While they, unfortunately, typically represent dogs that have died, she wasn’t prepared for the emotional work of making the memorial of Axe.

“It always breaks my heart, but this time I was caught off guard,” she said.

Along with photos of Axe and research she did into his story, Price sent her Axe’s harness so she could get a good feel for the dog’s size and what his harness looked like.

When she pulled it out, she found some fur still on the harness.

“I wasn’t ready for that — it was more emotional,” Toritch said. “You prepare yourself (but) actually, you hold it in your hands ... You’re living through that death and sacrifice.”

As she worked on the piece’s design, she continued to think about Axe, trying to connect with him and put his energy into the statue.

“It’s supposed to bring comfort, not only to Tom, but to all the handlers,” she said. “I didn’t expect that would hit me this hard. It just hit me: the actual living, breathing dog was there.”

Police Chief Todd Woodcox said the memorial has Axe as its center point, but it represents all of the past K-9s in the city who have been willing to sacrifice for the community.

“It’s always important to remember members of our agency that have given the ultimate sacrifice for the safety of our community,” he said. “It also stands as a reminder for the officers, every day when they see it, exactly how dangerous this job can be.”

He said, although it has taken years to get the memorial in place, it was worth the time spent.

“The design of the whole project, and especially the detail on the statue itself, it is the spitting image of Axe. It was a handmade design of Axe, not just a generic German shepherd,” he said. “The artist did an amazing job. It is Axe.”

Price said he was speechless when he first saw the statue Nov. 30.

“It’s beautiful. It is absolutely gorgeous,” he said. “It’s well beyond what I expected.”

After Toritch sculpted the piece in clay and her design was approved by the department, it was sent to a foundry to be cast in bronze. She said she watches that process closely to make sure all her detail is preserved. After it is cast in bronze, color was added and the piece was sealed.

She began working on the project in 2019 and, although the process is time consuming, once it is cast in bronze, it “lasts forever,” so she said she tries hard to get everything right.

“That’s why the important part was communicating with the committee, making sure they are happy and it looks just like what they want,” she said.

Toritch’s latest K-9 monument is the Naval Special Warfare K9 Memorial at the National Navy SEAL Museum in Florida. For more information on Toritch’s work, visit LenaToritch.com.

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