WAYNESBORO, Ga. --- The Waynesboro Police Department said goodbye to one of its own Wednesday.
At his memorial service, they said he was a hero, who "gave his life in the line of duty."
Fellow officers wore black strips across their badges in his honor.
Among the mourners who spoke at Joiner-Anderson-Saxon Funeral Home, none prompted more heartfelt tears than 8-year-old Mitchell Petitt, whose father, Officer Bruce Petitt, handled Po Po, the 2-year-old German shepherd police dog who died Friday.
"Po Po was more than my friend. He was my hero," Mitchell said. "He went to work every night with my dad and he kept Daddy safe."
Po Po was euthanized after ingesting meth-producing chemicals he had stepped in during a routine bust two days earlier, Bruce Petitt said. The morning after coming into contact with the chemicals, Po Po was experiencing respiratory problems and erratic behavior. His veterinarian said it was too late to save him.
"If we had any inclination that there was a chemical or anything in that house, not only would he not have been in there, but we wouldn't have been in there because it's a biohazard," Petitt said.
Po Po's legacy will be to help protect other police dogs, Maj. Mary Bennett assured those who gathered for the service.
"Po Po has done more for us in 10 months than some officers have done in 15 years," she said.
She plans to spread the word to other departments to help them avoid a similar tragedy.
Waynesboro resident Rex Gerlinger testified to Po Po's effect on criminals.
"Several weeks ago there was an incident right in front of my house where Officer Petitt and Po Po stopped two gentlemen that had just robbed a car," he said. "One of the gentlemen had a backpack. As he was reaching in the backpack, Officer Petitt said, 'Unless you want to be wearing my dog, leave it.' "
Inside the backpack, officers found a loaded gun.
"I think today if Po Po had not been there that we would be celebrating a different type of memorial," Gerlinger said.
Petitt is training his other dog, Dee-Moe, to take Po Po's place, but noted how difficult it will be, for both of them.
"In a city that has three officers per shift, he was neutralizer," Petitt said of the K-9 officer who had lived with his family for two years. "We were more like a 20-man shift when we went on call with him."