SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) — An online petition is part of a push to encourage a northern Indiana police department to allow a police dog to retire and join his former handler's family.

St. Joseph County police have rejected calls for retiring Flash, saying the 5-year-old German shepherd is capable of working several more years for their K-9 unit, the South Bend Tribune reported.

Public outcry began after Mike Beigelbeck left the department last month to take a private security job at the U.S. Embassy in Afghanistan. He was paired as a canine officer with Flash for three years.

"When Mike and Flash were assigned as partners, the working relationship took months to cultivate, as Mike was Flash's second handler," Beth Beigelbeck, Mike's sister, told the county Board of Commissioners this week. "My concern is the stress that Flash will be under with this transition ... I'm fighting for Flash."

People across the country have signed a petition asking the department to retire Flash and give him to Beigelbeck's family.

But the petition and the family's concerns haven't caused the department to rethink its decision, said assistant county Police Chief Bill Thompson.

"We get that there's a lot of emotion around this. But this is a working dog, and it's happy when it works," Thompson said of Flash, who specializes in narcotics detection and patrol work. "Our consultant is confident it will bond with another handler. But you can't tell people that when they think it's a grave injustice."

The department will consider retiring Flash from service if he's unable to bond with a new handler. The Beigelbecks said they'd take care of Flash while Mike is in Afghanistan, but Thompson said it's problematic for a police dog to go to a "family that doesn't have training experience."

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Information from: South Bend Tribune, http://www.southbendtribune.com