A canine handler mourning the loss of a canine officer opted to honor two fallen comrades when his department welcomed a new dog.
Tommy, an 8-year-old Dutch shepherd, was euthanized Feb. 20 after fighting T-cell lymphoma. He retired as a canine officer after being used nearly 400 times while working for Tiffin Police Department.
People came together during his treatment to offer support and after his death to grieve his family and department's loss.
"(He's) still sorely missed," said Officer Jake DeMonte, the police department's canine handler.
Andy, a 1-year-old Belgian Malinois, came to Tiffin two weeks after Tommy's death and is named after two law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty.
Andy Baldridge, 25, was a State Highway Patrol trooper killed in a single-vehicle crash west of Carey Feb. 4, 2010. Andy Dunn, 30, was a Sandusky Police Department officer killed by a gunshot March 19, 2011.
DeMonte attended the funerals of both law enforcement officers.
Matthew Dunn, Andy Dunn's dad, works as an officer for Sandusky Police Department and said Andy's only aspiration was to be a police officer.
"He grew up with me being a cop. ... He was hell-bent on being one," he said.
Matthew said his son worked part time on the Clyde and Cedar Point police forces and was a loss-prevention manager at Macy's in Sandusky. While at Sandusky Police Department, Matthew and Andy worked together for three years but were kept on different shifts.
Matthew said he lost his passion for law enforcement when he lost his son, and he is going to retire June 21.
"I've been off the road since Andy got killed," he said.
Andy's first encounter with a canine unit was when he was 4 years old and transported to a hospital in a police cruiser. Andy, whose nickname was "Droopy Dog," was training with canine units and was going to get more certification, Matthew said.
"He wanted to be a canine (handler)," he said.
Matthew said he was honored to have K9 Andy named after his son, and he was sure Andy would have been honored, too. He said he knows Jake from talking on the telephone.
"We paid attention when he was losing (Tommy)," he said.
Marcele Baldridge, Andy Baldridge's mom, said Andy always wanted to be in law enforcement, and serving with State Highway Patrol was something he had talked about for a long time.
"He loved the ... professionalism. ... He loved everything that went with it," she said.
Andy, who graduated from Carey High School in 2003, was asked to be his class speaker upon graduation from State Highway Patrol's academy. He had a lot of pride in what he did, his mom said.
"He just loved the whole ... thing," she said.
Marcele said having Tiffin's canine officer named after her son means a lot to her family, and the act is heart-warming.
"He loved what he did. ... I was speechless (when asked). I was absolutely speechless," she said.
Marcele said Andy was outgoing, saw projects through until the end and knew a lot of people.
"He never met a stranger in his life," she said.
K9 Andy was introduced as Tiffin Police Department's new canine officer after Tommy's death.
Jake and his wife, Erin, had three options when Tommy was diagnosed with lymphoma.
They could have done nothing, and he only would have lived a couple of weeks. They could have opted to treat him with prednisone, and if he had had B-cell lymphoma, he could have lived about six months. But Tommy had T-cell lymphoma, a diagnosis that came three weeks after his cancer journey had started.
The DeMontes opted to treat it with chemotherapy.
The initial estimate of Tommy's treatment costs was $5,000, but the bill increased to $11,000 because of the lack of response to treatment. The DeMontes raised about $12,000 in less than a week, and the remaining money was used for memorial and funeral expenses.
They put him through the first week of treatment before all the funding was raised.
"That's how much we wanted to do it," Erin said.
Erin said 7 percent of all lymphoma cases don't respond to treatment, and Tommy fell in that group. The DeMontes had no way of knowing it when they started the process, she said.
"Only the first week (of chemotherapy) was rough on him," she said.
The DeMontes kept in touch with supporters through a Facebook page titled "Save K9 Tommy."
Erin said she thinks it would have been harder for her and her husband to deal with the situation if they didn't have Facebook. When the situation got hard for Tommy, he turned to Jake and Erin. Erin said when things got difficult for them, they turned to their supporters on the social networking site.
They logged on and read the comments.
"By the end, you're smiling," she said.
Erin said she and Jake knew it was time to euthanize Tommy when he wouldn't eat and wanted to lay down. They stayed up nearly the entire night before to spend time with him.
"He wasn't responding to us. ... We needed that closure," Jake said.
Along comes K9 Andy
The DeMontes had discussed a new dog about a year or year and a half ago because they knew Tommy was getting toward the end of his career.
But, he then was diagnosed with lymphoma.
Erin estimated they were aiming to get a new dog during the summer and said they wanted to wait a couple of weeks to grieve his death. But about a week later, they got some donations, which moved along the process.
Everything, she said, including Andy and his training and equipment, will be paid for by donations. The city of Tiffin funds his veterinary bills and food. Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 128 handled donations to purchase Andy.
"He is paid for, paid for in full," she said.
Jake said he and Erin didn't want another Dutch dog to remind them of what they lost. He said Tiffin Police Department's new dog had to be social and have a good temperament, and he knew right away Andy was the dog for it. Andy is social but capable of doing the job, he said.
Erin described Andy and Tommy as intense. Tommy was stubborn, and everything was done his way. Andy, who still is a puppy, has more energy and is eager to please and learn, she said.
"He's already way different from Tommy. ... The social component is the main difference," she said.
Andy already is being trained and accompanies Jake to work. Jake and Andy are to participate in formal training in Fremont in late summer, and Andy is to be trained in sniffing drugs, searching buildings and tracking.
"It's to teach a first-time handler and the dog how to work together," Jake said.
The primary functions of Tiffin Police Department's canine unit are to respond to calls of incidents with armed or dangerous suspects or felonies in progress, track people, provide crowd control, search buildings, articles or evidence, including narcotics, and provide public demonstrations, according to the department's website.
Sentinel steps up
Jake has helped Sentinel Career and Technology Center's public safety services program, and now students are looking to give back.
The program is to have a spaghetti dinner to raise money for equipment and training for Andy and a bake sale to raise money to plant a tree and erect a plaque in memory of classmates killed in a car accident last year.
"We finally got (our memorial idea) in motion this year," said Jamie Johnson, a senior in the program and at Fostoria High School.
Tyler Tyree, a senior in the program and at Hopewell-Loudon High School, said students knew K9 Tommy was sick, and when he died, they had an idea to help the department obtain a new canine officer. The department, though, bought a new dog before the class put its idea into motion. The class determined the money would go toward the new dog's equipment and training.
"We haven't really set a goal. ... It's for a good cause," Tyree said.
Tyree said DeMonte was one of the lead officers who donated his time to offer a ride-along experience and has judged a SkillsUSA contest. He described DeMonte as a nice man and good officer who explained the job during a ride-along.
He said he learned from DeMonte that communication is the key to everything.
"If you can communicate in law enforcement, then you can stay out of trouble. ... He stresses professionalism," he said.
K9 Andy is to make an appearance at Sentinel's fundraiser.
"(The fundraiser idea) was awesome," Jake said.