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Out of a K-9 tragedy comes a cute 'comfort dog'

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette logo Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 6 days ago By Linda Wilson Fuoco / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
a group of people in uniform standing next to a dog © Provided by Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

The youngest member of the Johnstown Police Department sleeps during most of his on-duty hours, and that’s OK with everyone.

At 12 weeks old, Archie is 25 pounds of soft fur and wrinkles, and he’s already a big hit as the police department’s first “comfort dog.” The dogue de Bordeaux — a French mastiff — is helping officers and the Johnstown community heal from a terrible tragedy. 

Archie is upstaging the department’s other new dog, Ripp. The Belgian Malinois has replaced Titan, who was killed in the line of duty last November.   

When Titan died, “we got financial donations and heartfelt letters from all over the world,” said Johnstown Police Capt. Mike Plunkard, who is Archie’s partner and handler. A $10,000 donation came from Eastern Elevator, an American Elevator Group company that is based near Johnstown.

“When we woke up and heard the news we knew we wanted to reach out,” said Craig Cicon, field operations director at the family owned elevator company.  

Titan, a Belgian Malinois, was doing a building search with five police officers. They were looking for three suspects. Titan and his partner, Brian Stevens, were on the fourth floor “where it was pitch black” because there was no electricity in the building.

Titan ran into the next “room,” but it was actually a very large, empty elevator shaft, and the dog fell 80 feet to his death.

“It was a terrible tragedy, but Titan probably saved a life. An officer could have fallen into the shaft,” Officer Stevens said.

He and Titan had worked together for six years and apprehended many suspects. Off-duty, Titan was the much-loved pet of Officer Stevens’ wife and two children. The entire police department and thousands of residents lined the streets of Johnstown for Titan’s funeral procession on Nov. 23.

The new dogs were introduced to the community on April 6.

Ripp and Archie joined police and elevator officials for a Zoom interview earlier this month, and both performed admirably, staying “in character” for the jobs assigned to them.

The puppy Archie was wiggly and cuddly as Ripp sat stoically at his partner’s feet.

“Archie is kind of wound up because Ripp is here and several K-9 dogs just walked down the hall,” Capt. Plunkard said. Just a short time into the interview, Archie was on his back, sleeping with his feet in the air.

“In just 2½ weeks I have seen a change in the department. Officers say they look forward to morning roll call because Archie is there,” the captain said. “He plays for a half-hour and then he goes to sleep.”

“You never know where Archie will end up. He goes to the detective bureau and every other department,” where he is always welcome.

“I took him to a park the other day, and we never walked more than half a block” because everyone wanted to pet the puppy.

Most people have never seen a dogue de Bordeaux, but a dog of that breed starred in the Tom Hanks movie “Turner and Hootch.” Adults weight 100 to 150 pounds.

Ripp is about 18 months old and weighs 70 pounds. He looks like an adult dog, “but Malinois aren’t mature until they’re 3 years old,” Officer Stevens said. “Ripp and I are still getting to know each other, but he’s doing well” at work and settling in at home with the wife and children, who are “all animal lovers.”

Sitting still during the Zoom conference was probably a rather difficult command for a high-energy young dog who loves to work, but “that’s our obedience training,” Officer Stevens said. For K-9 dogs and their handlers, training continues through the dog’s entire life.

Archie and the five other dogs can be followed on the Johnstown Police K-9 Unit Facebook page.

Linda Wilson Fuoco: lfuoco@post-gazette.com or 412-263-3064 or at PG Pets on Facebook.

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