A ‘Dandy’ of a dog

Chris Berendt Staff Writer

August 21, 2013

Dandy, the police dog who blazed a trail in K-9 law enforcement in Clinton and Sampson County, was the best his handler, owner and partner Sgt. Chris Cantrell could have asked for, and the shock of the German Shepherd’s loss last Friday has not yet set in even though the positive impact of his service was well known.

“When they put us together,. we were starting something,” Cantrell said. “We really didn’t know what we were starting. All I wanted to do was be successful, and I couldn’t have gotten a better dog to make that happen. There wasn’t anything he couldn’t do that I asked him to do.”

A veteran of the Clinton Police Department and its first police K-9, Dandy worked for eight years alongside Cantrell before being retired in January. Upon his retirement, Dandy was presented with the Medal of Valor, one of the most prestigious awards customarily given for a single meritorious act, for a career that Police Chief Jay Tilley said was deserving of it.

“He really made an impact,” said Cantrell. “He put a big hurt in narcotics. He put a big hurt in the criminal element, period. He was stupendous when it came to making a name and a reputation for law enforcement and himself in general. He was always excited and ready to go to work.”

Aided by Dandy’s scent searches, law enforcement seized 705 pounds of marijuana, 335 pounds of cocaine, 46 pounds of methamphetamine, 25 pounds of heroin and over 1,000 illegal pills including ecstasy. The German Shepherd also located missing children and adults, apprehended wanted suspects and uncovered weapons.

Dandy was assigned to Cantrell in 2005 and, after eight weeks of “canine rookie school,” Dandy and Chris were certified as a patrol dog team by the North American Police Work Dog Association. Over their career, the team of Dandy and Cantrell logged over 1,500 hours of training and received certifications from the International Police Work Dog Association.

He was one of a kind, and set the bar high, Cantrell said. The two quickly earned the reputation as being a solid K-9 team, called at all hours to assist in any number of traffic stops, searches or criminal investigations, and boasting an impressive success rate.

Even though Dandy had not been on the road since January, almost everyone who saw Cantrell would still ask about the dog whose name was widely known in the community, by anyone from downtown merchants to school children and even perpetrators themselves.

Late Thursday night, Dandy was playing Frisbee with Cantrell’s wife and kids and rolling around with Cantrell’s other dogs. Dandy had whined for weeks at first when he would watch a uniformed Cantrell go off to work, knowing he wasn’t by his side, but Cantrell said that lately Dandy had regained his playful spirit.

In recent months, Dandy was receiving continual medications to treat a lowered immune system, for which he actually underwent surgery a couple years ago. Cantrell had been giving Dandy medication over the past several months to treat illnesses that would pop up here and there. He told his wife Ruth Ann he dreaded the day he might have to put him down because of hip deterioration, a common ailment in German Shepherds.

“I really think he knew I had been struggling with that,” Cantrell said. “I think he either had a stroke or a heart attack. I went out there to give him some medicine (Friday) morning and found him passed away.”

Cantrell quickly flagged down his wife, who was headed into town with the kids. Cantrell said his 11-year-old son was “extremely devastated.”

“I’ve had Dandy right at 10 years so he was a little tyke when I first brought Dandy home and he’s kind of grown up with Dandy. He would mimic me when I was giving commands to Dandy, to the point he could go out and say things and Dandy would listen to him,” Cantrell said. “My little girl doesn’t fully understand … but out of all our dogs she was scared of all of them but Dandy. She would let him get real close to her.”

Cantrell sent out a mass text to friends, family and fellow officers, who were all similarly devastated.

“Everyone was in shock,” said Cantrell.

He then delivered the news to veterinarian Dr. Bill Oglesby and his wife Trish, who were “Dandy enthusiasts and supporters,” going so far as to pledge upon Dandy’s retirement to take care of the Shepherd’s medications and vaccines for the rest of his life. Cantrell said he wanted to get Dandy cremated, not wishing to put him in the ground.

Before saying his final goodbye, however, Cantrell went on one last patrol with Dandy, taking the long way to the vet’s office.

“I wrapped him up in a couple of sheets and put him in the back of my Jeep and I rode him around through town a couple of times, just like we did all those years we were working, then I took him out there to Dr. Oglesby’s,” said Cantrell. “It still hasn’t sunk in what has taken place. I still fight off the urge to go out and feed him every night. It’s hard to believe he’s gone.”

The news hit others just as hard, because while seizing illicit drugs and chasing down criminals was part of what Dandy did, he meant more than that to the community. Whether it was during the course of his work, or the countless trips to various local events and area schools to show off his skills, Dandy was an ambassador for the city and its police department to thousands of children and adults alike.

“Dandy and his partner Chris have set a high standard for future canine teams,” Tilley said. “The Clinton Police Department could have never chosen a better first canine.”

“More than a trailblazer, he set the tone for all the dog teams,” Cantrell concurred.

The Clinton Police Department currently has three other such teams.

Sarge, a Belgian Malamar(Malinois), is handled by Cpl. Eddie Carter, who previously partnered with Golias, the department’s second dog who Cantrell called “another Dandy.” Golias passed away due to a blood infection and Sarge took his place. There is Junior, a German Shepherd hand-picked by Cantrell himself and handled by Officer Matthew Bland. And the department just welcomed its newest addition Zeusa, a female Mal handled by Cpl. Ashleigh Peterson.

“Sarge and Junior have already made their marks in the K-9 business,” said Cantrell, “and as soon as we get Ashleigh and Zeusa certified, I’m pretty sure they’ll be making their mark.”

Cantrell said it has been challenging to pick new handlers, because many good officers have jumped at the opportunity. But the sergeant said he won’t likely be one of them, saying he would rather now act as a mentor to those who are handling dogs, and help them build the the kind of professional and personal relationship he and Dandy shared for a decade.

“After all this, it’s been hard to want to start over again and go through that heartache again,” he said. “I’m just going to do all I can do to help make sure — Dandy started all this and we started all this — that these guys and girls and successful. His legacy will live on if they are.”

Chris Berendt can be reached at 910-592-8137 ext. 121 or via email at