Lenoir police dog dies of cancer
To a passerby, Nero may have looked like Lenoir Police Officer Zack Poythress’ German shepherd, but to Poythress and his wife, Megan, Nero was not only his law-enforcement partner but a member of the family, their only child.
Nero came to Poythress in October 2011 after the police department bought him from a trainer in Durham. The two became instant friends. Known for his floppy ears, nubby tail and outgoing personality, Nero also was a friend to the entire force. On the job, he helped in numerous arrests and drug busts.
"People around the department knew him for the stealthy way he walked around, and his love for water bottles," Poythress said.
After working a 7 p.m.-5 a.m. shift one Thursday morning in June, Poythress stopped to fill his car with gas and reached down to scratch Nero’s neck, where he noticed several lumps. Four days later, a veterinarian delivered news that hit Zack like a ton of bricks: Nero had Lymphoma cancer and would live only two to four months.
"We were presented with options, and the decision was made with a heavy heart not to put him through chemotherapy," Zack said in an e-mail to his fellow officers after the diagnosis. "The decision was not easily made, but the life expectancy with chemo does not outweigh the struggles that come with it.”
Poythress was giving Nero Prednisone, a steroid, to help ease the pain, and Nero continued to work.
In late July, Poythress and Nero took a few days off, and the family went to Myrtle Beach. On Sunday, Aug. 3, Poythress and Nero headed to the ocean to play fetch.
"I'd throw the ball in the ocean and he'd dive in to get it," Poythress said. "After a few times, he finally sat down on one of the towels. It was like he kind of flipped a switch. He put his ball down and laid down. We went inside, thinking he was just tired."
Once inside the hotel, however, Nero clearly was not recovering.
"I knew his time was coming," Poythress said as he choked back tears. "We packed the car to leave. I picked Nero up to take him to the car, and he died in my arms."
Returning to their Hudson home, they were met by all the officers on their shift and some deputies from the Caldwell County Sheriff's Office. On the day of Nero’s funeral, four Lenoir patrol cars and two sheriff's office cars, all with their blue lights on, escorted Nero to Cornerstone Cremations in Lenoir.
Poythress thinks Nero knew it was his time to go.
"It's almost like Nero planned it," Poythress said. "It's like he was saying, I've seen and done everything. It's time to go."
Nero's remains were cremated, and now reside in a temporary urn. A permanent urn with a police badge and Nero's name etched on it will be placed inside a shadowbox that will reside in a prominent place in their home.