For the first time in nearly 15 years, the Mt. Lebanon police department is without a dog on its force.
Sundi, a 10-year-old German shepherd dog from Budapest, Hungary, and a member of the department since 2004, died Sunday morning after a training session. Partner and handler Officer Michael Smakosz said the veterinarian believed the animal suffered something akin to a stroke or an aneurysm.
The department will have to wait, though, for another K-9 officer. With hope of having two dogs working in tandem, as it did when Jerd patrolled municipal streets from 1999 to 2008 -- the department applied this year for a grant through the Ben Roethlisberger Foundation, which helps purchase service dogs for police and fire departments.
The foundation awards seven or eight grants to Pittsburgh-area departments every year, said Jessica Duffalt, foundation relationship manager for The Giving Back Fund, an umbrella charity to the foundation.
But those grants aren't disbursed until late February or early March, and the process isn't expedited in cases like this.
The department has been offered donations toward the purchase and training of a new canine, said its spokesman, Lt. Aaron Lauth. The department is in talks with these individuals, but for now, will wait to hear from the foundation.
Lt. Lauth said he hopes they'll have another dog trained and on the force in the next 12 months.
Condolences from the community have been pouring in: By noon Wednesday, there were more than 1,000 "likes" and more than 230 comments on the police department's announcement on Facebook.
Sunday will mark Officer Michael Smakosz's first day without his partner since early 2004. The two bonded during Sundi's training and cultivated a relationship marked by many successful missions.
Responding to calls will be the same as it's always been -- just without his partner in the back.
"I just can't imagine driving around the police car" without hearing him barking or moving around, he said. "The main thing is just not having him there."
In addition to his work on the force and the comfort he brought to Officer Smakosz's family, Sundi accompanied his partner almost everywhere.
He even tagged along when Officer Smakosz spoke to Chartiers Valley political science students about police procedures.
"Sundi just made a good ice breaker," he said. "Everyone wants to pet the dog. Not everybody wants to talk to police officers."
Despite the loss, Officer Smakosz said he would partner with another canine.
"Nothing will ever replace Sundi," he said, but "I'd love to start fresh with a new dog."
Molly Born: email@example.com or 412-263-1944.