Northern Ohio Hero Dog Awards honor police forces’ bravest canines

Posted by Kaye Spector/Plain Dealer Reporter
NORTH RIDGEVILLE — Dar the police dog is a tenacious fighter. In July, he endured repeated punches and an accidental Tasering to chase down and help detain a suspect who had assaulted his human police partner.
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Zeus waits to receive the 2008 Top Honor for Narcotics Detection Award during Saturday’s ceremonies . Zeus and her partner, Officer Ronald Campbell III, are from the Fairport Harbor Police Department. Zeus has been in service for five years and had helped in narcotics detection for agencies including the Coast Guard and customs agentsBut on Saturday, Dar was the picture of calm and restraint as he and Shaker Heights police Sgt. Richard Mastnardo accepted top honors in the Northern Ohio Hero Dog Awards.

The competition is sponsored by the German Shepherd Dog Club of Northern Ohio and Medina-based Bil-Jac Dog Foods. Categories in the nine-year-old award program include Pursuit, Building Search, Tracking, Narcotics Detection and Lifetime Achievement.

Twenty-one officer-dog teams were honored on a grassy patch outside the Super 8 motel on Lorain Road, while a crowd of about 80 watched under sunny skies. Most were there for the dog club’s annual show, which featured competition and classes.

Dar, a black and tan German shepherd, sat alert and quiet at Mastnardo’s side as club officer Marcie Shanker told the crowd how the dog helped collar a man who later was convicted of carrying a concealed weapon, assault, drug trafficking and drug possession.

Mastnardo, in a police car with Dar, had stopped a man riding a bike and the two began struggling after the man tried to reach into his pocket. The man punched Mastnardo, and Dar came out of the car.

In the struggle, Dar was accidentally Tasered, but when the man fled, the dog continued to chase him even after being punched repeatedly in the head. After a chase, police arrested the man and found a gun nearby. Mastnardo believes Dar knocked the gun out of the man’s hand and prevented the officer from being shot.

“Dar’s courage and drive to protect his partner is a testament to the breed as well as the many hours of training and bonding between Sgt. Mastnardo and Dar,” Shaker Heights police Lt. Jim Mariano said in Dar’s nomination.

Other dogs were recognized for feats such as tracking two men to their house after they had held up a pizza deliverer, intimidating a man who was violently resisting arrest and finding 30 kilograms of cocaine on a private plane. Gunner the dog and his partner, Euclid Patrolman David Trend, found two burglars in a cluttered, pitch-black warehouse.

“It’s great that there’s clubs out there that honor what these dogs do,” Trend said after the ceremony.

Each honoree received a plaque, a certificate and a gold medal hanging from a red-white-and-blue ribbon. But the best swag — for the dogs, anyway — was in the goodie bag: Bil-Jac dog food, treats and a plush toy.

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