Santa Rosa Police officer Michael Clark looked like hell Monday morning. He had neither shaved nor slept, but that is to be expected when your best friend and partner goes missing, especially when that partner is a 70-pound Belgian Malinois.
"Taz is a working dog. With all his training, he's probably worth $25,000, but, more important, he also a member of our family," said Clark.
The dog's worrisome adventure began Sunday night when July 4th bottle rockets agitated him. Taz spends his off-duty hours in Officer Clark's backyard, and the family had left him alone there for a couple of hours. A surveillance camera shows Taz becoming increasingly agitated as explosions pop nearby.
"He is trained to move toward gunfire," said Officer Clark. The video shows Taz jumping a 4-foot fence, wandering in front of the house, and finally taking off down the street.
"I knew there was something wrong when he didn't greet us or come for food," said the officer, who alerted superiors, who launched a comprehensive dog hunt. Officer Clark spent most of the night driving nearby streets and calling to Taz without success.
"We were worried. If a car didn't hit him, he's so friendly that someone might rescue him, fall in love with him, and just adopt him," said Clark.
But, luck prevailed. At about 9:00 Monday morning, Erica Densberger of Windsor saw the dog when driving to work at the VCA Forestville Animal Hospital.
"He was laying down and I wondered if anything had happened to him. I called him to me. He came over, got in the car and sat in the front seat next to me," she said. "He wanted to rest his head in my lap while I was driving. He looked like he had had a rough night. He was covered with foxtails and mud, but he seemed too friendly to be a stray dog."
At the clinic, she checked him over and scanned for a microchip. It revealed a European number, but a co-worker had heard about a missing police dog on the news. Erica called. They made the connection and Officer Clark arrived in half an hour.
"It was a moment," he understated, in describing the reunion.
"I would not have been able to live with myself if I had left him there by the road," said Erica. "It's not who we are or what we do."
Upon brief inspection, Taz is tired, but will be fine. The dog has a limp from jumping the fence. His nails and pads are worn down from all the miles he ran on concrete.
"We'll check him out more thoroughly tomorrow, and give him a few days off," said Officer Clark. "And, we will give him some extra special care tonight."