Oakboro officer works to have K-9 Joker featured in children’s book

K-9 Joker, the German Shepherd with the Oakboro Police Department, has become one of the most popular and beloved figures in the community since he joined the force last spring.

Between making stops at Oakboro Choice STEM School, routinely interacting with residents, spearheading a fundraising drive last year that raised more than $6,000 for Stanly County Toys for Tots and even having his own Facebook page (along with K-9 Bane), he has become quite the celebrity.

Joker’s popularity should continue to grow as Oakboro Sgt. Jason Eschert, Joker’s handler, recently reached out to a children’s illustrator about Joker appearing in his own children’s book.

Lynne Lillge, known as the Italic Illustrator, has illustrated several books, including “K-9 Rambo visits Florence,” focused on a police dog in Wisconsin. Eschert first learned about Lillge after seeing the book about Rambo, noting he was really impressed with her artwork.

“I had come across her online and ended up speaking with her,” Eschert said, noting she asked about both Joker and Bane. “She was intrigued by their social media presence and we just got on the topic about a children’s book and she felt like it would be a great thing.”

Based on his conversations with Lillge, Eschert said the book would be geared toward younger children and would teach them about police dogs and “would also kind of humanize the badge to show that outside work, they are just dogs.”

Both Joker and Bane, named after Batman villains, will be featured in the book, Eschert said, though Joker, who turns 3 in December, will have a bigger role in the story.

The story will be published by Mythic North Press, which has published each of Lillge’s 17 children’s books. Eschert will decide the layout of the book, including the size and style of font, though Eric Roath, the owner of the publishing company, will be the author, Lillge said.

“This story would be great no matter who illustrated it,” Lillge said. “The sergeant’s passion and his story of Joker and Bane is really what’s going to make it. This is an officer who is truly in touch with his job, in touch with his community and in touch with his dog.”

Though she does not have a specific timeline, Lillge said the book will be completed sometime next year.

“I’m really excited about it,” Eschert said about the process, noting the book will hopefully strengthen Joker’s bond with residents in the community. “He has just built a following. People know him, people love him and I’m just happy that I’ve been put in this situation where I can help foster these relationships and make them long-lasting in the community.”

Joker should have plenty of time to continue forging relationships with the public. Due to some recent health issues, including nerve problems in his back legs, and following advice from his veterinarian, Joker is no longer a patrol dog. He has transitioned to becoming a community K-9.

“What we decided to do is use him as more of a community outreach dog since he is really good with the public,” Oakboro Police Chief T.J. Smith said.

More than anything, Eschert, who has been with Oakboro Police for almost five years, is happy that Joker has the opportunity to inspire even more people.

“Never in a million years did I think that Joker would be the face of Oakboro,” he said. “I’m just the guy that holds the leash — everything is about Joker.”