An 81/2-year-old Belgian Malinois was put down last week and now the Johnstown Police Department K-9 Corps is searching for a replacement.
Sgt. Michael Plunkard said he knew Athos, his partner of six years, wasn’t well when he refused to eat.
Athos last worked on Nov. 4.
“I took him to the vet and he did an X-ray and found he had a cancerous mass on his abdomen,” Plunkard said. “In two days he went from being fine to being really sick.”
Athos also had kidney failure, leaving the vet with few options.
The canine was put down on Nov. 7.
The drug-sniffing dog was a partner for Plunkard, who has been on the city police force since 2003.
“He was my partner who went to work with me,” he said. “That’s what makes if more difficult to deal with.
“It’s a big adjustment, especially going to work and not having him with me,” Plunkard said.
Athos and Plunkard were at center ice one day in February at the Cambria County War Memorial Arena for a ceremonial puck dropping prior to the Tomahawks hockey game.
It was part of “Pucks & Paws Night” to raise money for the K-9 unit, which at one time boasted five dogs.
The city’s K-9 Corps is down to one dog in service, said Mike Kanuch, who leads the department.
Most recently, Officer B.J. Newman retired his dog, Array, in October. A second dog, Cooper, was retired earlier, and a third dog, Chase, is being recertified and trained with his new handler, Officer Fred Adamson.
That leaves Kanuch’s dog, 8-year-old Rocky.
Buying a police dog is expensive. Its costs up $10,000 to purchase a Malinois from Europe, Kanuch said.
The Malinois is bred primarily as a working dog and is used by security personal in the United States and in European countries.
It takes about six months to train a dog for duty.
“Our plan is to look for grants that might be available,” Kanuch said.
Some residents have offered to stage fundraisers, he said.
Kanuch is quick to point out the generosity of the community which has funded the K-Corps.
“We’ve relied on the community throughout the years,” he said. “Without the generosity of the community and different church and civic organizations it would be hard to sustain the program.”
Patrick Buchnowski is a reporter with The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on twitter.com/Pat BuchnowskiTD.