FORT WAYNE — Terry Furnish is a good cop.
That’s the first thing you need to know going into this.
The second thing you need to know is that his partner of 12 years was a good cop, too, blessed with all those traits that make good cops.
These are things like loyalty, courage and a sense of what’s right and what’s wrong.
So imagine riding in a squad car with someone for more than 12 years, chasing bad guys at all times of the day.
Imagine arresting drug dealers and gunmen side by side, and imagine taking hundreds of pounds of narcotics off the streets in the process.
And imagine that one day, you have to watch that partner die.
Now imagine that you’re looking at doing it all over again – only this time, it’s a partner so much closer to you.
Imagine it’s someone you’ve devoted your entire life and existence to, through thick and thin and for better or worse.
Imagine it’s the person you’ve loved for more than 40 years, the person you bought your first house with, the person with whom, side by side, you’ve raised children.
It’s whom you’ve stuck right next to and, more importantly, who has stuck right next to you.
This is a story about love, death and partnerships, and the last things you need to know about Terry Furnish is that he’s a man who knows so much about both.
He’s a cop who had to put down his partner of more than 12 years, a dog named Ralph, the day after Thanksgiving.
And now he’s spending his days tending to his cancer-stricken wife, a woman who a little more than six months ago was given about a year to live.
He’s trying to get her through at least one more Christmas with the kids, with hopes that a higher power might intervene.
“She still has a very positive attitude about things,” Furnish said. “Miracles happen, and we’re Christians.”
It’s circa 1971, and the two teenagers are in front of a judge.
He’s 17. By his side is Karen Timmerman, a 15-year-old classmate at Leo High School.
She’s pregnant. What they want to do, despite what everyone else is telling them to the contrary, is get married.
“I remember the judge looked at me and said, ‘Young man, I could sentence you right now to 25 years in prison,’ ” Furnish said.
The couple’s parents were fine with letting them get married – to see how it’d go for them if they tried a life together, Furnish said.
“ ‘What’s the downside?’ ” Furnish remembers them saying. “ ‘If it doesn’t work out, it is what it is.’ ”
The judge would marry the couple only if their pastor – they went to the same church – agreed to the nuptials.
Soon, Furnish was a factory worker at Dana Corp. while his bride, now Karen Furnish, stayed home to take care of their first child.
Life was good.
“Two things will wreck a marriage: infidelity and money,” Furnish said.
Those were not a problem, but he became increasingly frustrated with his job and the lack of “brain power” needed in his day-to-day routine.
He always dreamed of becoming a police officer but had turned down at least two offers to be one because he would have been bringing home less money for the family.
Finally, Karen pushed him to join the Allen County Sheriff’s Department as he reached his mid-30s, assuring him things would be all right.
“She always told me, ‘Do it,’ ” Furnish said. “She told me to ‘just do it.’ ”
Now it’s Feb. 15, 2000, and Furnish is at a kennel in southern Indiana looking at possible K-9 units to take back to Allen County and train as police dogs.
Amid all the German shepherds, a Belgian Malinois catches his eye.
And that’s how Furnish met his partner on the force.
Later that day, someone will take a snapshot of Furnish and the dog, a young spark plug barely a year old with almost orange hair.
Furnish grew up with dogs all his life, and his old man loved the animals.
So he named his new K-9 partner Ralph in honor of his father, William Ralph Furnish, who died at age 52 from cancer.
For the next dozen years, the tandem became a fixture on the force.
Ralph was involved in everything. He sniffed drugs in cars and sniffed drugs in packages in the mail; he even helped locate suspects in an armed robbery or two.
In one 2006 case, he led Furnish on a scent that wound over and under several fences in a neighborhood, finally locating five men accused of robbing a gas station in several areas of one neighborhood.
Between the chases and drugs, Furnish took the dog around to schools and showed him to kids. He even had a set of trading cards – like baseball cards – made of the dog.
He estimates he gave away maybe 6,000 trading cards during Ralph’s tenure with the department.
“He did a lot of good for the county,” Furnish said. “He took a lot of drugs off the streets.”
As the years went on, Ralph’s hips began to show signs of the wear and tear that come with a being a police dog.
And like the top of Furnish’s head, Ralph’s muzzle began to gray.
In August 2012, Furnish had Ralph retire from the force. The dog had served 12 years and seven months in a field where most dogs last five or six years, max.
For his last day, someone baked Ralph a cake.
On the day after his last day, when Furnish put on his uniform and got ready to go to his squad car, Ralph started pushing his nose against the door in an attempt to wedge it open.
He’d do this day after day for the next year, and each time, he’d be rebuffed by Furnish.
“I’d say, ‘Ralph, sorry man, you’re retired,’ ” Furnish said. “Then he’d go lay on his bed. He got used to it after a while.”
It’s December 2012, and Karen Furnish suddenly up and quits her job as a unit clerk at Parkview Hospital.
There is little warning.
As a unit clerk, part of Karen’s job was making sure things were stocked properly on the shelves, her husband said.
Sometime after she left her job, Furnish said some of her co-workers told him she had been acting strangely at times, as if she were wandering aimlessly in some of the halls.
As time went by, Furnish thought that maybe she was suffering from depression, he said.
By now they had three adult children – two sons and a daughter – as well as 11 grandchildren.
As December turned into April, one of the grandchildren decided to get married in Las Vegas.
It’s during this trip that things involving Karen would come to a head, and the Furnishes’ lives would forever change.
Furnish did not go into specifics, but Karen began acting strangely and erratically, so much so that he and one of his sons took her to an emergency room.
Doctors performed blood tests, chest X-rays and a CT scan of Karen’s head.
Of those three, they did not like what they saw on the CT scan.
“They came back and told me, ‘She’s got some tumors on the brain,’ ” Furnish recalls.
“They said they needed to do an MRI. They wanted to have her admitted. I told them, ‘We’re going home tomorrow.’ ”
Doctors in Las Vegas told Furnish that if that’s what he planned to do, he needed to get his wife into a hospital immediately.
But getting home, even without having to travel with the weight of such news on them, proved almost impossible for the Furnishes.
The doctors gave Karen anti-seizure medication for the trip home, prescribed as a just-in-case measure since she had not suffered any seizures.
Then, before boarding the plane to come back to the couple’s Allen County home, Karen became sick.
Ultimately, the Furnishes were kicked off their flight, forcing Terry to rent a car.
“We went and got a rental car and drove 12 hours straight through the Rocky Mountains,” he said. “It ended up being a 29-hour drive to the Lutheran ER.”
A drive they took side by side.
Imagine being told words like “brain cancer” and “tumors on the frontal lobe” and “golf-ball sized.”
Imagine the words “clumped together” and “inoperable.”
Imagine being told phrases like “a month to a year to live.”
Now imagine this is all said about the person you’ve been married to for 42 years.
This is a person you’ve spent summers walking 3 miles a day with, whom you’ve developed workout regimes with and even planned meals with to make sure you’re both eating right.
And then: cancer.
“It blew my mind,” Furnish said. “I thought, ‘How could this happen to her?’ ”
Doctors said that if they operated, Karen would either die or become a vegetable, so she’s been going through chemotherapy to treat the cancer.
As news spread through the Allen County Sheriff’s Department, the men and women on the force began to step up.
And they did so in a big way.
It’s not uncommon for police officers to donate vacation days to fellow officers who may need them in family emergencies, Furnish said.
Sometimes, a fellow officer who may be going through some family or other issues receives a day from one officer, maybe a day or two from another, to go take care of whatever needs to be taken care of.
Furnish’s fellow officers donated roughly 90 vacation days to him so that he could spend the rest of the year with his wife.
“It brought tears to my eyes,” Furnish said. “I’ve donated vacation days to guys in emergencies and whatever, but I never thought they’d donate 90 days. It was just unbelievable.”
Furnish now wakes up and spends each day with Karen, trying to get her from one night to the next.
The couple made it to Thanksgiving and had a celebration with the kids, no one really knowing whether it’d be their last holiday with Karen.
She felt good, Furnish said, and was doing great. So well, in fact, that her condition surprised the doctors.
But then there was the dog.
It’s Nov. 29.
Furnish is making one of the most agonizing decisions he’s ever made.
He’s done this before – many times, in fact.
It’s not so unusual to put a dog down.
That’s kind of the social contract you accept when you befriend the furry creatures.
Chances are, you’ll be the one to put them to sleep.
Furnish is quick to let you know that he doesn’t place the value of a dog’s life over that of a human’s.
Still, Ralph was different from most dogs.
“He was my partner,” Furnish said.
By the time Furnish made the decision, Ralph had cataracts and couldn’t hear.
He’d stumble around a little bit, but he’d still try to trot out with Furnish every morning to fetch the newspaper.
The dog, like a good cop, still wanted to go. Furnish, like a good cop, knew what had to be done.
Ralph lived 14 years and 11 months. Furnish sent a glowing obituary of his partner to Fort Wayne Newspapers.
“I mean, 15 years is an amazing age to make it,” Furnish said.
So now it’s coming up on Christmas, and Furnish is making the most of his time with his wife.
“I’m with her 24/7,” he said.
They don’t know how much time they have together. But then again, who knew they’d have this much time?
Forty-two years ago, people weren’t giving a couple of pregnant teens much of a chance.
Now, though, Christmas is on the horizon, and the kids are coming to town. They’ll be doing all the cooking this year, they promised.
Karen has her days, Furnish said, some of them bad, but most of them have been good.
She’s alert, doesn’t have pain, gets around and eats and does everything really well.
So, they’ll wait to see if there’s a miracle in the works, but even if there isn’t, they’ll face whatever comes.
And they’ll do it as partners.
Side by side.