- Associated Press - Friday, September 18, 2015

ALLENTOWN, Pa. (AP) - With an intimidating bark and ready snarl, Cirrus isn’t known for his fuzzy demeanor.

But the South Whitehall police K-9, a menacing midnight black German shepherd with auburn splotches that catch the sun, isn’t here to warm hearts. His biggest strength sits at the end of his snout.

“He does excel at what he was trained to do,” Deputy Chief John Christman said. “He’s not the best PR dog, but that’s not what he’s here for. He’s got a great nose.”

And so despite his growing reputation for ferocity, 5-year-old Cirrus has the confidence of his two-legged partner. When a call came in Sept. 3 to assist Salisbury Township police in finding a missing man suffering from dementia, officer Kyle Golden said he knew Cirrus’ tracking prowess would be indispensable.

Frank Toth, an 87-year-old Salisbury man, had wandered off in the middle of the night during an Alzheimer’s episode, according to his wife, Ruth. The 89-year-old woman said her husband took off barefoot, imploring her to follow.

“I mean, sure you worry. It’s after midnight and he’s out there,” Ruth Toth said. “You wonder if he could have a heart attack or a stroke.”

Cirrus’ energetic technique fits best when he’s on the trail of a possible threat, Golden said. The dog is constantly aware of his surroundings and can easily look the part of a feral beast, though he has not bitten anyone.

“Cirrus gains compliance very well,” a grinning Christman explained.

The challenge of bringing such an aggressive dog to a call like the one in Salisbury was that Cirrus’ more intimidating qualities could be counterproductive. But Golden trusted his partner.

“With the experience I had with his tracking, I knew he could do very well,” Golden said. “He’s capable.”

Golden has learned to rely on his four-legged partners ever since he started as a handler in 1998 with Bria at the Wilkes-Barre Township Police Department. When he came to South Whitehall about 14 years ago, Golden started lobbying hard to restart South Whitehall’s K-9 unit.

His persistence won out and he took up the job with his first South Whitehall K-9, Yaenkee - a far cry from Cirrus.

“With Yaenkee, things were slow and methodical,” Golden said. “With this one, he’s very high-energy. He’s all over the place. He thinks we can get it done in half the time. He’s 100 percent work.”

Cirrus also can be described as effective. Golden said that in the dog’s three years at the department, he has managed to find more “targets” than Yaenkee did in his eight-year tenure. Cirrus was recently honored by Allentown police for helping track down suspects in the city.

Cirrus didn’t let Golden down during the search for Toth, either. Within minutes of arriving at the family’s home, the K-9 picked up a fresh scent. Golden saw it immediately.

“It’s not any one certain thing he does,” Golden said of the dog. “His whole demeanor changes.”

Tugging at his leash, Cirrus led Golden for about two blocks before stopping suddenly, ears perked. The dog heard the voice of Frank Toth before anyone else. Police found the man tangled in brambles and brought him to safety.

“The dog sniffed him right out,” Ruth Toth said. “We’ve been so thankful, so thankful.”

Those accustomed to seeing snarling Cirrus might not have recognized the K-9 then. Golden said he was proud of how calm the dog remained throughout the job. Despite the playful ribbing from his boss and fellow officers, Golden readily defends Cirrus’ rowdy ways.

“I always have to stay one step ahead of him,” Golden said, describing the difference between Cirrus’ demeanor and his own. “He keeps me more focused on the job and more aware of my surroundings. He’s going to detect something before I would. I have to plan for that.”

Golden admits that Yaenkee’s and Bria’s style of policing more nearly matched his own. But he wouldn’t trade in Cirrus, who has come to remind him of the passion behind the work.

“It’s always a new challenge when you’re working with a new dog,” he said. “You both have to become acclimated to each other. But then you find it: the perfect way to work together.”

___

Information from: The Morning Call, http://www.mcall.com

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