CALAIS — During his years on patrol, he tracked many a suspect and doggedly followed their scent to where they were hiding.
Now, after eight years as part of the Calais Police Department, Major, 10, is hanging up his badge and his bulletproof vest.
The German shepherd retired Jan. 23, for health reasons. Last year, an infection paralyzed the right side of his face.
Major, who readily accepted a pat on the head rather than a paycheck, was the first four-legged police officer on the department’s roster — and the most popular.
School kids loved him; residents stopped to greet him.
Major met his handler, Sgt. Chris Donahue, in 2001. It was then-Police Chief Michael Milburn who pushed for the dog unit in Calais.
“He is my partner. He would protect me to the bitter end,” Donahue said Friday.
“It is a bond that I don’t think you can put into words. He is more than family. He is more than a co-worker. He is more than a friend,” Donahue said. “I spend more time with him than I do with my family.”
And Major’s life revolved around Donahue.
When Donahue donned his uniform, ready to leave for work the Monday after the dog’s quiet retirement, Major was also ready. He stood at the door, tail wagging, eyes sharp, spirits high in spite of his health problems.
“It was definitely different,” Donahue said. “It’s hard on him and hard on me to leave him home. He still comes to the door and wants to go with me. It’s not like a person, who you can explain it to — they don’t understand it.”
Major was trained as a patrol dog and in narcotics detection, which contributed to his success. Other police agencies often asked for his help on a case.
The two have been on patrol together since June 2001.
Major was involved in more than 200 cases in Washington County.
In 2005, Major and Donahue’s work was instrumental in leading to the arrest of a teenager who had stolen a truck. Major tracked the suspect from the abandoned truck to where he was hiding. It took 45 minutes, but Major refused to give up.
Soon there will be a new canine cop on the block. Donahue said the new dog should arrive in Calais by the end of February and he too will join the Donahue household. Donahue and the new pup head for training in March.
It will take some doing to get Major to accept his replacement, but Donahue feels it will happen.
Donahue isn’t the only one who misses Major’s daily presence. Chief David Randall said Friday that the department hated to see Major leave
“Many times I would go outside for a smoke or coffee break and talk to the dog,” Randall said. Major was usually waiting for Donahue in the back of the police cruiser. “What I liked about Major is I could go out there anytime … and complain about any officer and he wouldn’t talk back,” Randall said.
Donahue said it doesn’t appear that Major will be looking for another job — as Milburn did last year when he stepped down from police chief and ran for the City Council.
Asked if Major aspired to follow in Milburn’s footsteps, Donahue said, “He’s smarter than that.”
“Make a note that Sergeant Donahue said that Major was smart enough not to run for council after his retirement from the Calais Police Department,” Randall added with a grin.