Monday, 10 December 2018
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Thurmont police welcome new drug-detecting K-9 after former dog retired

In early September, four months after Thurmont police’s 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. Buddy’s handler, Cpl. Tim Duhan, was happy to continue his work with Majo, but admitted he regrets Buddy’s premature retirement.

“Buddy’s great, but he’s a little upset when he sees me training out back with the new dog. He sits by the window and watches,” the corporal said. “He was a great dog, a great drug dog, too, and it kind of stinks what happened, but we’ve gotten a lot of support since his injury, and we’re very grateful for that.”

Buddy’s 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 hadn’t improved several months later, the veterinary center suggested a potentially risky and very costly operation to amputate Buddy’s 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.

“I said, ‘I don’t know what they’re going to do, if they’re going to have to put him down or what,’ and she listened and said, ‘Well, let me call you back …’” 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 Buddy’s surgery.

At the same time, in February, one of the Frederick Police Department’s 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 Buddy’s surgery free of charge as a gift in honor of Baron’s handler, Officer Pete Genovese, in remembrance of Baron.

“That night was devastating, so donating Buddy’s surgery in Baron’s 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,” Gellasch said.

The center’s 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 Castle’s K-9 Inc., a company in Pennsylvania that imports and trains police dogs and handlers.

Buddy’s 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 city’s drug-detecting efforts weren’t up to snuff, but Eyler nonetheless vowed that Majo would produce higher numbers as part of the department’s own policy.

“We’re just going to keep doing what we’ve 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,” 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.

“It’s a deterrent. You’ll hear the bad guys saying, ‘Well, I’m not driving into Thurmont, I’ll meet you … outside of town, because Thurmont has a drug dog now,’” Duhan said. “And that’s fine with me. Would I prefer to arrest you? Sure, but if you’re just not going to come to town because you know we’ve got a drug dog? I’m good with that, too.”

The town eventually put $10,000 toward Majo’s 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 Majo’s 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.

“One of the things a lot of people don’t 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 don’t just say, ‘OK, day’s over,’” Duhan said. “You live with your partner.”


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