Just a few months after they hit the road together, Mt. Lebanon police Officer Michael Smakosz and his partner, Sundi, found themselves in a basement of a home looking for drugs.
Sundi quickly nosed out some cocaine on a table, and later, kept leading his partner back to the same spot.
"I started to get frustrated with him," Officer Smakosz said, skeptical Sundi just wanted a reward.
Then Sundi leapt on the table, stuck his nose in the air, and sure enough, "there was a giant sack of crack in the rafters."
Officer Smakosz began to trust this rookie on the force and the two forged a crime-fighting partnership that came to an end this weekend.
Mt. Lebanon's sole police dog, a 10-year-old German shepherd from Budapest, Hungary, died Sunday morning after a routine training session. Officer Smakosz said veterinarians believe the dog died after an episode they equated to a stroke or brain aneurysm.
In 2003, a grant from the Allegheny County district attorney's office enabled the Mt. Lebanon police department to purchase its second police dog in recent years. (The first, Jerd, served from 1999 to 2008.) Officer Smakosz, now a 16-year police veteran, was looking for a new assignment and volunteered as Sundi's partner. The pair bonded quickly during Sundi's months-long training in late 2003.
He was scrawny back then and "it took about 10 baths to get him tolerable," Officer Smakosz said.
The "perfect Mt. Lebanon dog" was easily recognized in the community. Officer Smakosz told neighborhood kids that Sundi's nose could help find them if they were ever lost.
As of Monday night, there were 133 "likes" and more than 60 comments on the police department's Facebook post announcing Sundi's death. Sundi had the watchful eye and -- when he needed it -- aggression typical of good police dogs.
"But they can turn it off and almost be like a family pet when they're home," said Mt. Lebanon police spokesman Lt. Aaron Lauth. "He knew the difference between time to go work and time to take care of the family."
When police officers accept a canine partner, the dog often lives with them and trails them almost everywhere -- even the local grocery store, where Sundi, who liked his presence known, once embarrassed Officer Smakosz.
"We're going down the aisle -- there's 56 shoppers -- and he's marking his territory on the Ajax," he said, laughing.
There were quirks, too. Sundi would howl "like a wolf" to music on the radio, especially rock 'n' roll. He was hyper and would rarely sit still, Officer Smakosz said.
The police department is waiting to hear if they will receive a grant from the Ben Roethlisberger Foundation, which helps purchase service dogs for police and fire departments.
"We'll hopefully have one on the road in the next 12 months," Lt. Lauth said.
"Green" dogs, like Sundi when he first arrived, cost roughly $5,000, Officer Smakosz said. With training, they're valued at about $15,000.
For Officer Smakosz, who would speak commands in Hungarian, and his family, Sundi was priceless.
"Those were the best nine years of police work I ever had," he said.
Molly Born: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1944.