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Maria Lockwood, Superior Telegram , Published May 25 2012

An officer and a gentleman: Superior police dog Dargo euthanized

SUPERIOR, Wis. - As the first police K-9 dog in the Superior Police Department in more than 20 years, Dargo left a lasting impression, both on the neighborhood children who played with him and the officers who worked with him.

“He was one in a million,” said Kim Bradshaw, who cared for the retired police canine the past six years.

“Everyone loved him,” said her son, Nate Finstad.

The dog was both an officer and a gentleman, those who knew him said. After gradually losing the ability to walk, Dargo died on May 10.

Superior Police Officer Todd Maas was paired with Dargo in 2003.

“When I was selected to be the canine handler, my mother thought that was the most insane move, being at the time I had two small children at home,” Maas said. But Dargo’s personable, calm nature soon put her at ease.

“Everyone who worked with and knew Dargo fully enjoyed playing with and being around him,” Maas said. “Dargo opened the eyes of a lot of people around the city of Superior.”

Dargo knew when to turn on his work mode and when to turn it off, said veterinarian Bob McClellan with Superior Animal Hospital and Boarding Suites, which provides free medical care for the Superior Police Department and Douglas County Sheriff’s Office K-9 dogs.

“He was a really friendly dog,” said McClellan. “Dargo, he was something special.”

The canine excelled in drug detection and was recognized in 2005 for the Narcotics Find of the Year by the Wisconsin Law Enforcement Canine Handlers Association for finding 4 ounces of methamphetamine and a half-pound of marijuana that was well-hidden in a vehicle. Maas estimated the German shepherd located drugs well over 150 times and was responsible for or assisted in more than 100 arrests. He also got away with things no other officer could, like leaving a pile of droppings in front of Chief Floyd Peters’ door one night, or greeting Dan Wicklund, the owner of Dan’s Feed Bin, by peeing on him.

“Being a great sport, Dan laughed as I pulled Dargo away,” Maas said. “Nothing like going on the guy that feeds you, I said.”

Dan’s Feed Bin donates food for the Superior and Douglas County K-9 units.

Though Dargo lived for playing tug and hide-and-seek, the one part of his police training he only tolerated was agility work. When he completed a piece of agility course equipment and Maas wasn’t nearby, he would make a beeline to the squad, hinting he wanted to be done.

In 2006, Dargo was tracking a suspect in Duluth when he jumped off a 6-foot retaining wall and compacted his spine. The incident caused nerve damage that would soon end his police work. That December, he went to live with Bradshaw.

“I know Todd would have kept Dargo if he could have,” she said, but he had two other dogs at home, including his new K-9 partner, Blek.

The Superior woman had to take a crash course in German command words, the only kind Dargo knew. Though she and others who gave commands often garbled the language — and even his name — the canine was able to get the gist of it.

“He was the epitome of patience,” Bradshaw said. And he would calmly sit still for hugs from children of all ages.

“Every day he brought me joy and happiness,” she said. “I have so many favorite memories of him.”

The first time she took Dargo through the car wash was an experience. He went nuts, barking in a high-pitched tone and setting the truck rocking. The 90-pound canine also had a habit of jumping at water hoses.

The dog’s favorite thing was visiting with Maas, who stopped by regularly. That was followed closely by chasing squirrels, although Dargo never caught one.

“He loved plastic bottles,” Finstad said. “He would sit and flatten them (chew them flat); he could do it for hours.” And during fetch he sat patiently — even as long as 10 minutes — until given the command to “go get it.”

The canine had the ability to read people very well, Bradshaw said. If Dargo didn’t trust someone, his instincts were right on the nose. Despite his many medical issues and surgeries, Dargo was a happy dog, his owner said.

But recently, his back legs started to lock up on him. He was having a hard time with stairs and even walking.

“I made myself and I made Todd a promise: If it either got too painful or his frustration level was too much, I wouldn’t put him through that,” Bradshaw said. “You have to do what’s best for him.”

On May 10, he was euthanized. Before that, neighbors dropped by Bradshaw’s home to say goodbye and give him treats. Maas spent his last few hours with Dargo playing tug-of-war.

“Dargo made a lot of friends in this lifetime,” Bradshaw said. “He’s going to be missed by everyone.”