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Sam, the Decatur Police Department’s first police dog, during a May 1996 training session.
Daily file photo by Scott Trigg
Sam, the Decatur Police Department's first police dog, during a May 1996 training session.

Decatur’s first police dog buried with his badge at training center

By Paul Huggins
phuggins@decaturdaily.com · 340-2395

He was a police officer without a last name, but he left a lasting impression on those who work to rid Decatur of illegal drugs.

Sam, the city’s first police dog, died Wednesday when veterinarian Dr. Michael Newman euthanized him.

The lab/shepherd mix had suffered from hip dysplasia, a condition that forced his retirement in February 2001. By Wednesday, the 12-year-old dog was no longer able to stand or walk.

“The most valuable role Sam provided at Decatur PD was he was somebody’s partner,” said Lt. Frank DeButy, who worked with Sam on drug investigations. “Second of all, he was an invaluable tool in locating controlled substances. He had an ability none of us had. And to top it off, he was a friend.”

Sam started in the summer of 1996, working with officer Elizabeth McNeil. He marked her fourth attempt to train a police dog. The first three failed to display the work attitudes and drive needed to be successful drug sniffers.

“He could find things we could never find,” DeButy said. “A lot of times, he found stuff we never would have guessed was there, like hidden compartments in cars.”

One of the benefits of drug-sniffing dogs is when they sense illegal drugs, they go on alert. This gives officers probable cause to search a car or structure without a warrant.

"He knew when to work and he was all business," DeButy said. "But when he wasn't working, he was your buddy, to everybody."

McNeil cared for Sam at her home after his retirement. Decatur police now use Brew, a lab mix.

About 10 officers attended a funeral for Sam on Thursday morning. The department dedicated a portion of the police training center at Flint as the official canine cemetery.

They buried him with his badge — just like a human officer, DeButy said.

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