Roy Halladay's legacy lives on through a drug-sniffing dog named Doc

Jeff Passan
MLB columnist

The good boy wanted to go to work. He sat under the table. His tail wagged. His tongue hung from the corner of his mouth, like a stray piece of corned beef. When he’s at home, Doc, a 4-year-old English lab, is playful and sweet and maybe a little lazy. When he’s at work, at the Pasco County Sheriff’s office in the greater-Tampa area, he’s a lot like the man who funded his addition to the K-9 unit and after whom he’s named.

“When he goes to work, he has – it’s kind of almost like you look at Roy Halladay and the way he had his tenacity,” said Deputy Brian Hernandez, Doc’s handler. “That’s his tenacity to work. Like, he’s happy-go-lucky when he’s not working, but when he’s working – you’ll see it in a minute when I tell him to go to work. He’s all about work.”

As baseball mourned the loss of Halladay in a November plane crash, it hit the sheriff’s office every bit as hard. Here they were investigating the death of their friend, their benefactor. It wasn’t just Doc, the drug-sniffing dog who joined the department in March 2016. The officers still talk about the time a friend of Halladay’s in the department said they were putting on a fundraiser for two deputies with cancer. Halladay loaded up the back of an SUV with jerseys and gloves. He signed a pair of spikes. The department wound up raising around $20,000.

Doc, a 4-year-old English lab, is playful and sweet and maybe a little lazy (Jeff Passan)

It’s hardest on days like today, when the Toronto Blue Jays visit the Philadelphia Phillies for the first game of a series that pits the two teams for whom Halladay played over his 16-year career. Reminders of him are everywhere – not just in the rafters at Rogers Centre, where his jersey is retired, or Citizens Bank Park, where the Phillies will add him to their Wall of Fame in August, but in the right arm of his eldest son, Braden, or in a room at the sheriff’s office filled with tables and chairs and a dog who’s clamoring to work.

A few minutes earlier, Hernandez had taken a plastic zip-top bag with a washcloth inside and slipped it in the sliver of space between two chairs stacked on top of one another. The washcloth had been warehoused in a container full of drugs so it would absorb the odor. To the human nose, it was scentless. Doc was ready to show otherwise.

Ever since Halladay and his wife, Brandy, donated the $10,000 for Doc and his training, he has proven himself a valuable asset. On his fourth day with the department, he accompanied Hernandez to a storage unit to investigate a tip about a car belonging to a man who had tried to run over a policeman a few days earlier. Doc went unit to unit until he stopped at one and stared at Hernandez. They secured a warrant, cut the lock and found the $80,000 Porsche Panamera they were looking for, given away by the small amount of marijuana that Doc sniffed out. Last year alone, Hernandez said, Doc’s work helped lead to 38 arrests.

When Doc realized he was about to go hunting for the washcloth, he tugged at the leash attached to his harness. “Ready to work?” Hernandez said. “Go find dope!” He bounded to one corner of the room, found nothing and reversed course, his nose sniffing all the while. He gravitated back to Hernandez, who gave him the order to find dope once again, and strolled past a copy machine. Doc walked slightly past the chairs where the plastic bag was wedged before finding the scent, at which point he snapped his neck to the left and fixed on the spot. He turned his head sideways, trying to jam his muzzle into the space and extract the bag. When he couldn’t, he simply sat and alternated his eyes between Hernandez and the bag.

Hernandez rewarded Doc with a toy to chew – his favorite treat is actually an ice cube – and some rousing praise in a voice best described as cop-does-falsetto. It works particularly well, Hernandez said, to troll people he arrests. “They’re like, ‘Oh, great, I got busted by the lab and the guy with a really high-pitched voice,’ ” Hernandez said.

Before he worked with Doc, Hernandez was a school resource officer and coached the junior-varsity baseball team. Prior to that, he was in the military for eight years as a medic. Everybody called him Doc.

So when he met Halladay and learned the department was renaming the pup – in the Netherlands, where he was born, the dog was called Rolex – all of it seemed so perfect to Hernandez. Halladay visited the department with Braden, and he autographed Doc’s first collar as well as Hernandez’s favorite hat, and it was all surreal, this exciting new job getting to work and live with a dog who would bring others such joy. Hernandez took to calling Doc the EMB: employee morale booster.

“What Doc does and who he is to the agency, and the community, you can’t put a price tag on that,” Hernandez said. “When he walks, you see when people walk in and see him, it’s like their crappy day, if they’re having a crappy day, it’s almost like it’s erased because of the two minutes they spend with Doc.”

Roy Halladay’s memory lives on in Pasco County, Florida. (Jeff Passan)

He sees this outside the department, too, and he’ll never forget one particular moment. Doc attended a memorial service after Halladay’s death, and he and Hernandez walked up to Brandy to offer their condolences. An advocate of rescuing dogs, Brandy fell in love with Doc.

“She was on the floor and he was sitting on her lap in this memorial,” Hernandez said. “A room full of people, and he’s just sitting there and she’s just loving on him, and he’s literally just sitting on her lap, just kind of hanging out.”

Hernandez wants to do everything he can to honor Halladay, so a few months ago, he commissioned a special decal to put on the rear windows of the truck he and Doc use. On the left side is the Phillies’ logo and the number he wore for them, 34, and on the right is No. 32 with the Blue Jays’ emblem.

Sandwiched between are six words that resonate in Toronto, in Philadelphia and across small towns in Florida, where his legacy lives on through a good boy that just wants to go to work: In Memory of Roy “Doc” Halladay.

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