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When a K-9 died, its handler seemed distraught. But then investigators dug up his back yard.

The Washington Post The Washington Post 6/07/2016 Michael E. Miller

Daniel Peabody © Cherokee County Marshal’s Office Daniel Peabody Daniel Peabody loved his dogs.

At least, that’s the way it looked to students whenever Peabody, a hulking and heavily tattooed school cop, strode into northern Georgia classrooms with a K-9 at his side.

The lieutenant loved his animal partners so much that when one dog retired, Peabody promptly adopted him.

But Peabody wasn’t the dog savior he portrayed himself to be, authorities say.

Instead, the veteran K-9 officer now stands accused of leaving one police dog in a roasting car to die and executing another.

On Tuesday, investigators announced that the remains of a third dog — unearthed in Peabody’s back yard — indicated the animal also had been shot, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

The alleged case of animal cruelty is all the more bizarre because of the special protections police departments bestow on the expensive and highly trained animals.

In Georgia, for instance, it is a felony punishable by up to five years in prison to intentionally kill a K9 — a penalty stiffened just last year after a police dog was killed in the line of duty.

Few in Cherokee County could have imagined that the biggest threat to a beloved police dog was the man holding its leash.

The strange story dates to at least 2012, but only came to light last month.

On June 10, Peabody and his pawed partner, Inca, a four-year-old Belgian Malinois, came home from work about 4:15 p.m.

Peabody, a 16-year police veteran who had worked with K-9s for five years, rushed inside to deal with another dog, Cherokee County Marshal’s Office Maj. Jamie Gianfala told the Marietta Daily Journal.

Nearly three hours later, Peabody suddenly remembered he had left Inca in his squad car. When Peabody went outside to check on the dog, she was dead, Gianfala said.

Gianfala also said Peabody’s 2001 Ford Crown Victoria was not equipped for police dogs.

“There’s no kennel, there’s no alarms,” he added. “It’s basically just a Crown Vic police car.”

The temperature that afternoon was in the 90s, “and that was outside, so I’m sure the temperature in that police car was much higher,” added Chief Marshal Ron Hunton.

Hunton told the Daily Journal that Peabody was visibly distraught over the dog’s death, hyperventilating so badly that he had to be taken to a hospital and passed out at one point.

“He is very, very upset about the death of his dog,” Hunton said.

A few days later, Peabody abruptly resigned, according to the Journal-Constitution.

When authorities investigated Inca’s death, however, they quickly stumbled upon other suspicious incidents involving the K-9 officer and his partners.

When they asked Peabody about Dale, a yellow lab he adopted in 2012 after five years of working alongside the animal, Peabody initially said the retired dog died in a freak accident.

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