FARMINGTON — A former Farmington police service dog with seven years of experience died unexpectedly on Sunday

Tir, a 9-year-old Slovakian shepherd, was in the police department's K-9 Unit from January 2006 to January 2013. He was strong, loyal and gruff canine whose name is a French word that means "to open fire."

"And if you knew Tir, that's exactly how he was," said K-9 Officer Dan Brozzo, Tir's handler.

Farmington police have several K-9 teams that respond to assaults, searches, rescues, drug investigations and other police calls. The teams are intended to reduce the number of hours officers have to spend on certain calls and to protect officers.

Farmington police dog Tir latches on to officer Josh Calder’s arm as K9 officer Dan Brozzo, right, gives the release command in January 2008
Farmington police dog Tir latches on to officer Josh Calder's arm as K9 officer Dan Brozzo, right, gives the release command in January 2008 (Daily Times file photo)

In their seven years together, Tir and Brozzo responded to more than 450 incidents. They worked 300 searches for Farmington police and 80 searchers for other law enforcement agencies. Tir was credited with more than 70 narcotics seizures, according to Farmington police.

Of the calls Tir worked on, Brozzo said the most memorable was the first time Tir took down a suspect. It was a home invasion on Dustin Avenue and one of the suspects resisted and fought with officers during his arrest. Rather than risking officer safety in a fight with the suspect, Brozzo "deployed" Tir on the suspect. Like a bullet from a gun, Tir raced toward the man and quickly brought an end to the situation.

"Once Tir got his teeth on him, it was over," Brozzo said.

Tir was well-known in the Farmington community. In addition to routine police work, he participated in more than 150 public demonstrations at schools and public events to showcase the K-9 teams.

But Brozzo said Tir was so loyal to Brozzo that he appeared rude to other people.

"He wasn't social. He was a grumpy cop," Brozzo said. "He didn't really get along with people."

Brozzo selected Tir from a specialized boarding kennel in California that imports dogs from Slovakia and the Czech Republic and trains them for police service. Brozzo chose Tir because his bite strength and confidence stood out among the other dogs in the kennel.

Brozzo trained Tir and was his lone handler for the dog's career.

Tir lived with Brozzo and his family, even after he retired. Brozzo said off-duty, Tir was relaxed. They never trained or practiced drills when Tir and Brozzo weren't on the clock.

Brozzo retired Tir in January because the dog started to tire more easily. Brozzo took a position with the police department's training division.

Brozzo said Tir started to get sick on Saturday. A veterinarian said the dog had an unknown fast-acting infection, and he died the next day.

Farmington police Capt. Keith McPheeters said Tir was one of four canines in the K-9 Unit.

The program has been successful and will be at full strength once it selects another dog to replace Tir, he said.

"The studies are concrete, canines are very cost-efficient," McPheeters said. "We're absolutely sold as a department on the canine teams."

Ryan Boetel covers crime for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4644 and rboetel@daily-times.com. Follow him on Twitter @rboetel on Twitter.