Skip to main content

Before his death, the former Blue Jays pitcher sponsored the addition of a canine to the sheriff's department in the Florida community he called home. Now, his legacy lives on thanks to the crime-fighting narcotics dog named in his honour

Before he died, Roy Halladay donated money to the Sheriff’s Department in Pasco County, Fla., so they could bring in Doc, a K9 with a specialty for narcotics detection.

Deputy Brian Hernandez of the Pasco County Sheriff's Office approached the yellow English Labrador retriever with a clear plastic bag. Inside, two facecloths reeked of marijuana.

K9 Doc stuck his chestnut-brown nose into the bag and vibrated with excitement. His vision was blocked while the bag was hidden in a television stand at the far end of the room. The dog waited anxiously.

"Find dope!" Deputy Hernandez, his handler, ordered, and Doc sprang forward.

Within seconds, after casing the area with his sensitive snout poking this way and that, the exuberant four-year-old dog zeroed in on the cabinet and pawed twice at the bottom drawer. Then he sat obediently, staring at his find.

Deputy Hernandez walked over, stroked the dog lovingly behind his ears, and gave him a treat for a job well done.

This is a story about a dog, and Roy (Doc) Halladay, the late Major League Baseball star the animal is named after. Halladay and his wife, Brandy, donated the animal to the police department a little over two years ago. It's a story of how the yellow Lab keeps Halladay's spirit alive in the Florida community he called home.

Halladay was 40, a husband and father of two teenaged boys, and the former Toronto Blue Jays and Philadelphia Phillies pitcher who died in a single-person plane crash in the Gulf of Mexico on Nov. 7, 2017. His legacy continues on four legs along Florida's Gulf Coast, thanks to the crime-fighting narcotics dog.

"To us, Roy was more than just a baseball player," Pasco County Sheriff Chris Nocco said in a recent interview. "He was special because he had done so much for the organization. He had a curiosity in what we did. He actually went out and rode in a squad car the odd time to see what happens out there and he liked watching the SWAT team as it trained.

"He was fascinated by it all."

When Halladay asked one day, out of the blue, if the department had any needs, he learned that the canine unit could use another member.

"And that's how we got Doc," Sheriff Nocco said.

From left: Pasco County, Fla., Sheriff’s Deputy Brian Hernandez, Sheriff Chris Nocco and Captain Bill Davis with Doc.

'A stand-up guy'

This year, as always, the Blue Jays held spring training in Dunedin, Fla., their first since Halladay was killed.

During his 12 seasons in Toronto, Halladay dominated the game, amassing a 148-75 record along the way. He won the Cy Young Award as the American League's best pitcher in 2003, and repeated in 2010 in the National League following a trade to the Philadelphia Phillies.

Halladay, who retired following the 2013 season, was revered for his extraordinary work ethic and focus. He treated pitching like a craft.

"He was a thick layer of ice that you had to crack to get in," said Ken Huckaby, who came to be a close friend of the pitcher after he caught 21 of Halladay's games for the Blue Jays in 2002 and now serves as the club's minor-league catching co-ordinator.

This year during spring training, the Blue Jays wore a No. 32 patch on their jersey sleeves, the number Halladay sported when he played in Toronto.

"I don't know anybody who ever came across Doc that didn't love the guy," Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said. "He wasn't an easy guy to get to know but you love everything about him because he was a gentleman … a stand-up guy.

"And in the profession that we're in, he was the best in the game."

On March 29, when the Blue Jays open the 2018 MLB regular season against the New York Yankees at Rogers Centre, the tributes will keep coming. The Blue Jays are scheduled to hold a pre-game ceremony to celebrate the late pitcher's career and life's work.

Halladay's family will attend the game to watch the club retire Halladay's No. 32, joining Roberto Alomar as the only players in Jays' history to have their numbers retired.

Brandy Halladay wanted K9 Doc in Toronto for the ceremony, but the decision was made to leave the dog in Florida to keep the focus on Roy and his family. But it could be argued that Doc is part of the family.

Deputy Hernandez is Doc’s handler. While the dog’s specialty is narcotics detection, he also does well for community relations. ‘Wherever I go everybody loves Doc,’ said Deputy Hernandez.

Helping the community

The Pasco County Sheriff's Office is located in New Port Richey, a small residential city off the Gulf of Mexico, roughly 60 kilometres northwest of Tampa. The Halladays lived in nearby Odessa.

Just a few days before his death, Halladay was on a boat fishing in a charity derby.

According to Sheriff Nocco, Halladay was fishing in almost the exact location off the New Port Richey coastline where his brand-new, ultra-light, ICON A5 aircraft would later slam into the water.

The U.S. National Transportation Safety Board, which is investigating the accident, has yet to rule on what may have caused the crash. In a preliminary report released a couple of weeks after the accident, the board determined that Halladay was performing steep turns and twists during his 17-minute flight. This was an indication, according to one aviation expert quoted in the Tampa Bay Times, that Halladay was perhaps a victim of "pilot hot-dogging."

Captain Bill Davis was the first person at the Pasco County Sheriff's Office to become acquainted with the Halladay family, nine years ago. Their children attended the same middle school and the adults ran into each other at school functions and birthday parties.

Capt. Davis is a frank-talking Brooklyn native who describes himself as a "chops buster."

"If I love you, I'm going to really give you a hard time because I think humour is the best medicine," Capt. Davis said. "And Roy appreciated that. Roy was a quiet guy. But around me, I was blessed to make him laugh, and that meant a lot to me."

After Halladay retired from baseball, he would fish, fly his plane and find ways to help out in the community.

Sometimes Halladay would fly throughout the state of Florida to pick up rescue dogs, a cause that his wife Brandy supported. It was often uncertain whether the animals they rescued would find a forever home.

"I remember one time they brought home a St. Bernard that they named Cannoli," Capt. Davis said. "They fell in love with it and she still has it. He's gigantic. It's like a horse walking around the kitchen."

At the end of the work day, Doc goes home with his handler and is a family pet.

'He loves his job'

Through their friendship with Capt. Davis, the Halladays decided to sponsor the addition of Doc to the department's canine unit, which increased its number to 21.

The Pasco County Sheriff's Office canine unit includes six Labs, which are primarily used in narcotics and bomb detection; two bloodhounds capable of tracking everything from fleeing felons to missing children; and 13 German shepherds, which are deployed for crowd control and the apprehension of suspects who calm considerably at the sight of a snarling, 42-kilogram four-legged representative of law enforcement.

It costs approximately US$10,000 to sponsor a police dog for the department, which includes specialized training that can take six to eight months. The dogs come from all over the world. K9 Doc was born in the Netherlands.

The dogs are paired with a handler once they arrive at the department and Deputy Hernandez partnered two years ago with Doc.

He said when Halladay came to visit the new recruit, he autographed a Sheriff's Office hat and Doc's first collar. Both have been put away for safe keeping.

At the end of the work day, Doc – like all members of the canine unit – goes home with his handler and is a family pet.

‘He loves his job,’ Deputy Hernandez says of Doc.

When it comes time for work, Doc can't wait to hit the road in his bulletproof vest, standard gear for the canine unit, to track everything from crack cocaine to heroin to methamphetamine.

"He loves his job," Deputy Hernandez said. "There are days when I'm getting ready to go to work and he's like, 'Come on, dad, let's go.' I have probably the best job in the Sheriff's Office."

The department estimates that Doc has been responsible for getting more than 100 grams of various drugs off the street so far this year.

"To him it's a big game," said Deputy Hernandez. "And it's kind of funny, when we do drug busts at a traffic stop and I'm screaming at Doc, urging him to sniff out the drugs. And the guy we stopped is thinking, 'I just got busted by a Lab and a guy who has a really high-pitched voice.'

"But to me, getting any little bit of dope off the street, that's what matters."

Added Sheriff Nocco: "You can't have enough canine out there."

Roy Halladay would have agreed.