Port Neches Police Department welcomes new K-9 Ruger following Rico’s retirement

Published 12:38 am Tuesday, February 7, 2023

PORT NECHES — The newest member of the Port Neches Police Department may be young, but he has already earned his badge.

Ruger, the department’s new K-9, entered into service for the first time Saturday. And in his first weekend, the 1.5-year-old Belgian Malinois was deployed during two traffic stops — finding marijuana both times.

“So far he’s doing good,” Stg. Eric Heilman, Ruger’s handler, said Monday by phone. “About an hour ago we began introducing him to the other dogs.”

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Ruger and his wife, Showna Heilman, now have four dogs, one of which is PNPD’s recently-retired K-9 Rico.

“He’s enjoying the retired life, doing whatever he wants whenever he wants to do it,” Heilman said of Rico.


By the time Rico retired in January, Heilman was preparing to leave and spend four weeks training with the new K-9, who was originally named Roger.

But the Heilmans knew before meeting him that the name would change.

“My wife came up with it,” Sgt. Heilman said of Ruger. “It was kind of a catchy name, and Roger was too plain for us.”

During the regular Port Neches City Council meeting last week, councilmembers approved the purchase of the new K-9 while learning a bit about him.

“He came in a Roger; he’s leaving a Ruger,” Police Chief Cheri’ Griffith said.

At the time, the dog and his handler were at the training center and were preparing to leave the following day.

“They tested last week and the dog is certified,” Griffith said.

Councilmembers approved spending $15,900 to acquire Ruger. According to an invoice from Hill Country Dog Center, the cost for a dual-purpose detection and patrol dog and the four-week handler cost is $13,500. Additional fees include $1,600 in on-site lodging from Jan. 8 to Feb. 3, $500 for veterinary set-up and shot; and approximately $150 for a 20-foot heavy-duty nylon lead, a reflective ID panel and miscellaneous training.

Griffith said the department is seeking donations to offset the cost.

Sgt. Heilman said Ruger would likely follow in Rico’s footsteps by working inside schools and doing additional community outreach once he settles in.

“It’s a big job,” he said of starting with a young puppy. “It’s more than I thought, but I’m up for the challenge, and it’s going to be great.”

Austin Gilchriest, 8, pets Rico with Sgt. Eric Heilman. (Monique Batson/The News)


On his last day of work Jan. 6, Rico had served the Port Neches Police Department for eight years, all but one with Heilman.

Commissioned in January 2015, Rico was deployed 114 times, apprehended 37 suspects, had to bite three, seized 7,947 grams of methamphetamine, seized 36.5 grams of cocaine, seized 20 grams of heroin and found $459,719 while working with multiple departments.

During Rico’s retirement party, Showna Heilman told Port Arthur Newsmedia that she intends on bringing him to hospitals and nursing homes during his retirement.

“I want to keep him from being like, ‘Dad is leaving, and I’m not ever going anywhere anymore,’” she said. “He doesn’t meet a stranger. With everybody he’s like, ‘Let’s play; let’s be friends.’ My aunt was in the hospital a few years ago and it made a huge difference when we brought him in.”