Michigan: K-9 Named in Honor of Fallen Officer

The bright-eyed, tail-wagging greeting in a hallway at the Ottawa County Sheriff’s Office Wednesday was special for Eve Gort-Smith. “This is Pappy,” Deputy Tony Stariha said as he introduced his new K-9 partner to Gort-Smith. That ‘older Pappy’ Gort-Smith referred to was her late husband, Arlyn Gort. A reserve deputy, Gort earned the nickname Pappy from his fellow deputies.“He was such a part of these guys,” Gort-Smith said. “I think he thought they were all his kids and he had fun with them.” Pappy’s service to the department came to a tragic end on a rainy night when he was struck by a car while directing traffic in Jenison. It was Aug. 22, 1989. Nearly 30 years later, deputies approached his widow with the idea of naming one of the department’s new K-9s after her late husband.

“I thought it was great because I just knew what his reaction would be happy, great,” Gort-Smith said. Pappy and fellow K-9 officer Kyan, partnered with Deputy Jeremy Osbun, are replacing two recently retired K-9s. The Holland Kennel Club and the Hassell family, owners of Accurate Engines, funded the purchase of the two European breed dogs.

The K-9s are an effective tool for everything from seeking out suspects hiding in building to sniffing out drugs to finding lost children. And, at least in Pappy’s case, providing an important link to the past.

“Pappy’s our only line-of-duty death that we have had,” Ottawa County Sheriff Steve Kempker said of Arlyn Gort. “Again, that carries on. And as new members come in to our department, they learn about Pappy.”

Stariha — a Fremont native who recently joined the Ottawa County Sheriff’s Office after three years with Alaska State Police — and Pappy have been training together at Mid-Michigan Kennels in Eaton Rapids. It took Pappy about two and a half months to reach rookie status.

“It’s quite the experience, just seeing the difference in bonding from when I first got him to now,” Stariha said. “You’ve got a companion. you’ve got a partner with you, and he’s got your back all the time.”

Ottawa County Sheriff’s Office Deputy Tony Stariha and his K-9 partner, Pappy. (July 26, 2017)

“There’s a really strong bond there,” said Michael Morgan, who owns the kennel. “These dogs become like one of these officer’s children. They go home with them. They become part of their families.”

The dogs are trained to sniff out marijuana, cocaine, heroin, meth and ecstasy. They do that by placing drugs in boxes. When the dogs sit next to a box containing drugs, they get their ball. “With repetition, he learns that when I smell one of these five smells and I sit, I get my ball,” Morgan explained.

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