Five years ago at a North Carolina kennel, Deputy Dustin Cleveland and others were testing five dogs over the course of two days.
That process whittled the field down to two options, but Journey was the one who ended up coming home as Cleveland’s partner.
“He had the highest drive of all of them. He would push through anything to find explosives,” Cleveland said of Journey.
Apparently Journey, who was named by a trainer with an affinity for 80s rock bands, didn’t stop believing.
The 7-year-old English lab became a beloved member of the Sheriff’s Office team, working locally and in areas across the state as an explosive-detecting dog.
Journey died Jan. 23, one week after his retirement reception.
“I feel like the entire time, the five years, we pushed every opportunity we had. We made the most of it,” Cleveland said.
Each day on the job would have a handful of general searches in the county, but the pair could be called out to search for discarded firearms or bomb threats.
In July 2015, on Journey’s first mission, the two were dispatched to help following a bank robbery in Banks County. Law enforcement had captured the suspect, but the money and gun were nowhere to be found.
Cleveland and Journey arrived at the heavily wooded scene, and the English lab darted out into some briars.
After Cleveland untangled his four-legged friend, Journey did the same thing again.
“The whole book bag was buried and had two bank bags with money in it, the firearm and the clothes the guy had on when he robbed the bank in it. What we anticipated being several hours of searching was five minutes,” Cleveland said.
Cleveland and Journey were called on to work events at Georgia Tech and Mercedes-Benz Stadium, including almost every Atlanta Falcons home game. The pair was assigned to the Los Angeles Rams in the leadup to last year’s Super Bowl while they were at the Falcons complex in Flowery Branch.
Journey was integrated into the Cleveland family, with his own bed at home and accompanying every family vacation.
Earlier this year, Journey wouldn’t eat. When Cleveland took his partner to Lance Animal Hospital, the veterinarian discovered dental issues and ran routine blood work,
The bloodwork and followup testing revealed abnormalities with his kidneys, so Journey was taken to the University of Georgia research hospital for an overnight stay and a barrage of tests.
“When I went back to get him, they said they had narrowed it down. They were sure that it was lymphoma. Both of his kidneys were completely affected by it,” Cleveland said of his partner’s Nov. 26 diagnosis.
Even the most progressive chemotherapy might buy Journey four months, but “his kidneys would still kill him,” Cleveland said.
Cleveland was running IVs on Journey daily, with the dog taking three different medicines twice a day.
The doctors gave Journey two weeks to a month left in November. He lived 56 days, enjoying Thanksgiving and Christmas with his family.
“Like I told my wife, you have two choices now: We’re going to mourn, of course, or we can have fun with him while he’s here. He was still not in any pain,” Cleveland said.
When the Sheriff’s Office got leads on Cleveland’s next dog, he decided to take Journey along for the ride to San Antonio.
“I like to think he assisted us with picking the canine we did, and he got to spend two weeks where he rode in the kennel with her because they got along that well,” Cleveland said.
Bella, a 2-year-old German shorthaired pointer, now joins another Bella, one of the Sheriff’s Office’s bloodhounds.
At Journey’s retirement reception, the pair was presented with shadow boxes and a flag that has flown over the U.S. Capitol.
“It was everything that you’d hope for,” Cleveland said.
Cleveland said he plans to spread his partner’s ashes at a pond behind his mother’s home and at the ocean, as the family would often travel to Myrtle Beach.