Monroe County Sheriff's Office mourning loss of K9 Vigor

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MADISONVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) -- The Monroe County Sheriff's Office is mourning the loss of one of their own.

Their K9, Vigor, died in the line of duty when he drowned in the Tellico River chasing down a suspect.

"You know my son said it best," said Vigor's handler, Sgt. B.J. Johnson. "A lot of people asked him, 'Are you ever scared cause your dad goes out after the bad guys all the time out in the night?' And he said, 'You know, I never worried because Vigor was 30 feet in front of him."

Johnson partnered with Vigor for seven years of the 9-year-old's life. They met while serving a tour in Iraq. Wednesday they went out for what would be their last mission together.

The two were chasing after a suspect in Cherokee National Forest. Johnson said they were forced to cross the Tellico River. That's when Johnson slipped.

"And the current took him to the right but it took me to the left. I tried hard to get to him but the current was so hard it just kept sweeping me to the left."

Another officer was able to recover Vigor, but CPR couldn't save him.

"It hurts a lot. The hardest part, I think, is when you pull into the driveway, and you pop the door -- and he don't come out," Johnson said.

Vigor had a stellar record and the reputation of a "bad boy."

"But that was his job," Johnson said. "And we got to be real good buddies," he added.

Like his colleagues, Vigor wore the badge with pride, which is how this K9 will always be remembered.

Johnson has been a K9 officer for 25 years. Before he got Vigor, he had lost another K9 in the line of duty. When asked if he wanted to work with another dog, Johnson said he hasn't made a decision yet. But it would be hard not to have a K9 in his patrol car.