Winter 2018

The newest member of the Pittsburgh Police K9 Unit will never be given a command to chase, stop and bite a fleeing felon.

It’s not in the dog’s nature or breeding to do that, for Cappy loves every person he meets, and often jumps up to lick their faces.

“This one is a lover, not a fighter,” says Kevin Merkel, Cappy’s handler and partner.

The 20-month-old bloodhound arrived in Pittsburgh in September.

The other 17 K9 dogs are German shepherd dogs and Belgian Malinois that would never dream of licking the faces of strangers. They are trained for multiple jobs, including detecting narcotics and explosive devices. They will chase and bite when commanded to do so and come to the aid of their human partner without a command from the officer.

Cappy will protect and serve in a different way. He will track and find lost people, including children with autism and elderly people with dementia.  And he will do his job in the same way he behaves in all his waking hours —  with tail-wagging, joyful exuberance.

He does his searches at the end of a very long lead line held by his handler, because once a bloodhound locks onto the scent, they tune out the rest of the world and wouldn’t even hear a handler’s command to stop or come.

Cappy has another role with Pittsburgh police. He has helped to heal hearts that were broken in July when the K9 unit’s 10-week-old bloodhound puppy, Loki, died suddenly from aspiration pneumonia.

Cappy has a unique back-story. He was rescued by Public Safety Dogs, Inc. The nonprofit in Haw River, N.C., takes dogs out of shelters, trains them to track and trail, then donates them to police and fire departments.

“When Loki died, that news went national” in dog training circles, said Sgt. Sean E. Durry, who heads the Pittsburgh K9 unit. “Public Safety Dogs contacted us and said they had a fully trained dog they would donate to us.”

Sgt. Duffy went to North Carolina to work with Cappy for four days.

“Cappy doesn’t need any more training. Kevin (Merkel) and I need more training to know how to work with him,” he said.

Officer Merkel has another K-9 partner, Tonky, a Belgian Malinois trained for patrol and narcotics detection. That dog is nearly 10 years old and will be retiring soon.

Cappy quickly adjusted from his former life living in an outdoor kennel to living in a house with Officer Merkel and his family. Cappy especially loves the couple’s children, who are 2 years old and 2 months old.

So far Cappy has only been called out for one missing child. Just as the dog and his partner arrived on the scene, word went out that she had been found.

Cappy and Officer Merkel work together every day, including taking long conditioning walks. Officers also set up trails for the bloodhound to follow.

On a recent training assignment, officers laid the scent extracted from a woman’s lip gloss and Cappy followed the trail and found her in Homewood Cemetery. The woman was Julie Grant, legal editor at KDKA TV.

Cappy has gone on a number of meet-and-greet assignments to schools with young students, and the children loved him, Officer Merkel said.

Pittsburgh Police have the second oldest K9 unit in the country, Sgt. Duffy noted with pride. They celebrated the unit’s 60th anniversary on Nov. 17.

“Our unit motto is ‘Courage Without Ferocity,’” Sgt. Duffy said.

Linda Wilson Fuoco: or 412-263-3064.