Duke was an extraordinary dog who served Natchez

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, September 17, 2003

Duke O’Malley is dead, euthanized &045; we all hope in the presence of loved ones &045; sometime in the fall of last year not long after a veterinarian made a diagnosis of cancer.

The clippings dropped off at The Democrat by former Natchez alderman and a founder of Miss-Lou Crime Stoppers Paul O’Malley brought back good memories.

There stood Duke in the photograph, tongue hanging large from his open mouth, ears pointed straight and tall above his head and a knowing look in his alert eyes.

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Many will remember when Duke, a brilliant Belgian Malinois, came on the Natchez scene at age 3 only 10 years ago. A shepherding dog, he was beautiful, similar to a German shepherd, with thick short hair that was mostly brown, black-tipped, and with a black mask setting off his handsome face.

He came to work with the Metro Narcotics Unit in Natchez, assigned to Lee Ford, who became not only his partner but also his close friend.

Ford, now school resource officer for the Natchez Police Department, went to school with Duke at Louisiana State Penitentiary Canine Training Center in Angola in 1993, the year that photograph was made.

The five-day K-9 training course concluded with trials. &8220;Out of the 71 canines from around the United States, Duke and I placed ninth in narcotic detection and first in criminal apprehension,&8221; Ford said.

The ensuing career Ford and Duke shared included untold numbers of successes in narcotics arrests and seizure of property. Federal and state agencies praised Duke’s work.

&8220;Duke’s great sniffing nose truly took a bite out of crime,&8221; Ford said. &8220;Even I was amazed at what Duke could do. Duke and I put many people behind bars for long periods. We helped make a safe and drug-free school. Our goal was to avoid negative behavior and teach the students the value of service to others and their communities.&8221;

Duke never could have known, as recipients of his good deeds and good work did, just how important he was during the years he worked in Natchez and helped to make the community a safer place. But anyone with an appreciation for what dogs do for man in general can take comfort in knowing Duke was loved.

&8220;Duke was not just a partner,&8221; Ford said. &8220;He lived with my family and me and became a friend and family member. My children and all my family loved Duke.&8221;

O’Malley deserves a salute in helping to promote crime-fighting programs such as the ones that brought Duke to town. Having Duke bear the O’Malley name was appropriate.

Duke’s service did not end in Natchez. When he no longer was able to work with the narcotics unit in Natchez, he moved on to Jackson, where he worked in the Hinds County Sheriff’s Department K-9 Division.

During the time he worked in Hinds County, he was credited with more than 100 narcotics searches and with assisting in the removal of illegal drugs worth more than $250,000.

How does a community repay such an animal? Duke did what he was trained to do and took in return the kind words and warm pats on the head of his handlers. That was enough. He was a dog. But he was an extraordinary dog who now has a secure place in many hearts.

Joan Gandy

is community editor of The Democrat. She can be reached at (601) 445-3549 or by e-mail at