In early September, four months after Thurmont policeâs first drug-detecting dog was medically retired, the department welcomed his replacement, a 14-month-old German shepherd-Belgian Malinois mix named Majo.
Full of excitement and drive, Majo eagerly stepped into the role formerly occupied by Buddy, a black Labrador retriever who was retired May 18 after suffering nerve damage to one of his front paws while playing and exercising off-duty in June 2017. Buddyâs handler, Cpl. Tim Duhan, was happy to continue his work with Majo, but admitted he regrets Buddyâs premature retirement.
âBuddyâs great, but heâs a little upset when he sees me training out back with the new dog. He sits by the window and watches,â the corporal said. âHe was a great dog, a great drug dog, too, and it kind of stinks what happened, but weâve gotten a lot of support since his injury, and weâre very grateful for that.â
Buddyâs leg was examined at the CARE Veterinary Center in Frederick, which recommended rehabilitation to see if the nerves in his leg would heal. When things hadnât improved several months later, the veterinary center suggested a potentially risky and very costly operation to amputate Buddyâs left forelimb.
Fearing the worst, Duhan called Pamela Wahl, co-director of the Unsung K-9 Heroes Project, which had donated a training collar and other equipment to Duhan and Buddy in 2016.
âI said, âI donât know what theyâre going to do, if theyâre going to have to put him down or what,â and she listened and said, âWell, let me call you back …ââ Duhan said.
A few days later, Duhan got a call from Connie Graf, director of the Frederick County Humane Society, the backing organization for the Unsung K-9 Heroes initiative. The CARE Veterinary Center had agreed to donate the entire cost of Buddyâs surgery.
At the same time, in February, one of the Frederick Police Departmentâs dogs, a 7-year-old German shepherd-Belgian Malinois named Baron, died from complications of a stomach ailment despite the best efforts of the veterinary center, said Dr. Kelly Gellasch, a surgeon and co-medical director at the center.
Looking for a way to heal from that loss, the center performed Buddyâs surgery free of charge as a gift in honor of Baronâs handler, Officer Pete Genovese, in remembrance of Baron.
âThat night was devastating, so donating Buddyâs surgery in Baronâs name in sort of his honor helped us feel a little better, and it was nice to be able to help the police officers because they get a bad rep sometimes, but they really do so much for the community,â Gellasch said.
The centerâs donation likely saved the Thurmont police about $3,000, Gellasch estimated.
The money the department saved also likely helped the town afford to buy Majo several months later. Brought to the United States from the Czech Republic shortly after his birth, Majo was purchased for about $12,500 from Castleâs K-9 Inc., a company in Pennsylvania that imports and trains police dogs and handlers.
Buddyâs replacement was a minor point of contention when the Thurmont Board of Commissioners worked to make up a $50,000 shortfall in its initial attempts to balance its operating budget in early April.
Commissioners Bill Buehrer and Martin Burns also questioned the expense after learning that Buddy had conducted only 56 drug scans since joining the department in 2013, encouraging Thurmont Police Chief Greg Eyler to find ways to use Majo more often.
Eyler and Duhan protested the characterization that the cityâs drug-detecting efforts werenât up to snuff, but Eyler nonetheless vowed that Majo would produce higher numbers as part of the departmentâs own policy.
âWeâre just going to keep doing what weâve been doing with the dog from before, same as we always did, just trying to increase his use and letting the public know that we have the dog available,â the chief said.
Both Eyler and Duhan also mentioned how just having a drug-detecting dog on the force has had a positive effect on the town.
âItâs a deterrent. Youâll hear the bad guys saying, âWell, Iâm not driving into Thurmont, Iâll meet you … outside of town, because Thurmont has a drug dog now,ââ Duhan said. âAnd thatâs fine with me. Would I prefer to arrest you? Sure, but if youâre just not going to come to town because you know weâve got a drug dog? Iâm good with that, too.â
The town eventually put $10,000 toward Majoâs purchase in its final budget. The remaining $2,500 was donated by community partners identified by the Unsung K-9 Heroes Project and the Humane Society.
Duhan called the combined efforts of all the groups involved in caring for Buddy and helping to secure Majoâs purchase a godsend. The corporal was especially grateful because, to him, a police dog is more than just a sharp nose trained to bust drug dealers.
âOne of the things a lot of people donât understand is, you build this relationship, where, K-9 officers spend even more time with their dogs than they do with their wives or our kids because we work 11 hours and, when we go home, we donât just say, âOK, dayâs over,ââ Duhan said. âYou live with your partner.â