One of the Madison Police Department's most determined crime fighters is getting back on his feet — all four of them — after defying a life-threatening illness.
K9 Ivan, the partner of Officer Henry Wilson, returned home Monday after a six-day stay at the UW Veterinary Care Small Animal Hospital, where he was treated for a near-fatal infection and pneumonia.
"We actually thought we were going to lose him," said Sgt. Chris Boyd, who leads the canine unit.
But Wilson — who credits Ivan with reinvigorating his policing career since the two were paired 4 1/2 years ago — is being credited himself for how well he knows his furry, four-legged partner and how quickly he got him life-saving medical attention when the dog's condition suddenly deteriorated.
After beating 50-50 odds of survival, Ivan is expected to be able to return to work in six to eight weeks, said UW veterinarian JD Foster.
"He's through the woods," Foster said. "He's doing remarkably well. It's pretty phenomenal."
A few months ago, Ivan, a 6-year-old German shepherd from Czechoslovakia, started exhibiting symptoms similar to meningitis and was diagnosed with fluid on his brain.
"It's actually pretty incredible (Wilson) picked up on it," Foster said.
Wilson had noticed that Ivan — whose prowess includes tracking down criminals and sniffing out illegal drugs — wasn't performing up to snuff. An MRI showed inflammation in the olfactory lobe of Ivan's brain was hampering his ability to smell, Foster said.
"If it wasn't for Henry's astute knowledge of Ivan, I doubt it would have been noticed for a lot longer," Foster said.
Ivan was treated with prednisone used to reduce the fluid on his brain, but the drug weakened his immune system and masked the symptoms of the resulting pneumonia and bacterial infections that spread though his blood throughout his body.
"He doesn't express pain," Wilson said of his "Ivan the Delightful," who is with him around the clock. "He's very quiet with his discomfort."
Last week, Ivan, who was still recovering from the fluid on his brain, was with Wilson at a training. During some down time, Wilson took Ivan outside and let him find "a pound and half of weed and 3 ounces of heroin." He was a little slow, but Ivan did his job.
Afterward, Ivan didn't eat much. The next day, he couldn't get up.
"It looked to me like he was dying," Wilson recalled. "I said, `I'm not ready to be without Ivan. We're just starting to gel as a team. It just felt like we had more we had to do.."
At the hospital, Wilson learned just how sick Ivan was. And when he left, "I weeped openly in my car," Wilson said. "This is the only dog I have ever loved."
With Ivan, Wilson, 51, has gone from "bitter employee" and "angry person" to "absolutely the happiest I've been."
"We're talking about a Cinderella story here," Wilson said. "The dog has changed my life."
Foster said Ivan was critically ill.
"If (Wilson) would have waited a day or two before he brought him in, he could have died at home," Foster said.
Ivan had two different bacterial infections, Foster said, adding that a single one could have been fatal.
"Most dogs don't make it out of the hospital," he said.
But Ivan, Foster said, is "an incredibly strong dog with an amazing endurance and strength."
"He's got such a strong will," she said. "He just doesn't stop."
And, like Wilson, Ivan has his soft side. When he isn't tracking down criminals, he's visiting churches and nursing homes.
"He's just been a very good ambassador for the department," Wilson said.
Ivan is still being treated for an infection on one of his heart valves and has developed a heart murmur, but, Foster said, "It shouldn't impair his ability to work."
Boyd estimated medical costs for Ivan's most recent hospital stay alone would be about $3,000.
Wilson encouraged anyone wishing to support the K9 unit to make donations to Capital K9s, the nonprofit organization that pays for the dogs, initial training and a kennel-equipped squad car, and is developing a new program to pay for veterinary care.