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Anchorage police dog is panting to return to work after stabbing

Kyle Hopkins
Anchorage Police Department K-9 Officer Nathan Keays and his dog MP are recovering on Monday, July 7, 2014, after both were injured in the line of duty early Saturday morning. MP, a 7-year-old Belgian Malinois, was stabbed in the head and neck while apprehending a suspect and will be out of service for a few weeks. Officer Keays sustained injuries to his hand during a fall and is back to work. Bill Roth / Alaska Dispatch News

MP, age 7 1/2, is getting too old for this. 

The Belgian Malinois police dog was just months from retirement Saturday when he and his handler, Anchorage police officer Nathan Keays, arrived in Mountain View to investigate reports of a man wielding a machete.

One of seven patrol dogs working for the Anchorage Police Department, MP’s job is to chase down suspects, search buildings and sniff out evidence criminals might toss while on the run.

MP was stabbed at least three times in the head and neck and spent an hour in surgery, Keays said.

 The weekend encounter in East Anchorage turned a citywide spotlight on the department’s nearly 40-year-old canine unit as well-wishers wondered about the condition of the wounded dog.

On Monday, the officer spoke to reporters about the arrest for the first time, describing what happened in his own words. MP, he said, held his own. 

The Belgian Malinois is a resilient breed willing to fight back when attacked, Keays said, which is why APD favors them.

“Some of the shepherds were having courage issues,” he said. “These guys could care less about fear issues. They just want to go get the bad guy. Or the ball.”

The trouble started at about 1:30 a.m. when police were called about an attempted stabbing on North Flower Street and confronted 37-year-old Nole Hommerdling. Knife in hand, Hommerdling bolted for an alley, Keays said.

“I ended up sending K-9 MP to apprehend the suspect," Keays said. 

In this case, to "apprehend" means to bite. 

“MP apprehended him in the forearm,” Keays said.

Hommerdling dropped the machete but pulled a pocketknife and sliced MP several times, Keays said. 

“He got a major (cut) on the top of the head. He got one right between the eyes,” said the officer, who suffered minor injuries on his hand in the melee. With Hommerdling in custody, Keays drove MP to an all-night veterinarian office where the dog spent an hour in surgery.

MP has tracked about 60 people in his career, leading to more than 200 charges, Keays said.

While it’s not unusual for suspects to punch or fight police dogs, police said attacks with weapons are rare. Hommerdling faces a separate felony charge because of the seriousness of the dog’s injuries. MP, meantime, is doing well and may even return to the job before his long-planned retirement in September.

Keays joined APD in 2005, and MP is his first K-9 partner. The pair work and live together. Keays said his children, ages 3 and 9, were upset by the dog’s injuries.

“This guy has been my shadow for the last 6 and a half years," he said. "We’re in high-stress situations and then when we go home, he’s at home with me. We’re cooking dinner, he’s playing with the kids."

Today, thick black stitches line the dog’s shaved skull. An angry pink scar shows where the knife opened his neck.

MP will likely have his stitches removed within three weeks, Keays said. The department plans to test him to see if the attack weakened his nerves. Like soldiers and cops, dogs can be changed by combat.

A police K-9 named Aerie was accidentally Tasered during an arrest recently and had to be trained to make sure he could do his job again after being shocked. The same is true for MP.

Either way, the department plans to purchase another three dogs from a Pennsylvania kennel in the fall. Each animal costs about $13,000 to purchase and train, said Sgt. Jason Schmidt, canine unit supervisor.

All three will be Belgian Malinois like MP.

MP moped around for a few hours after the knifing, Keays said. “After that he started to become more himself.”

As Keays talked, other patrol officers prepared to train with a different canine team in a nearby dandelion field. MP, off the clock for now, climbed back to Keays’ patrol car.  When a siren wailed on Tudor Road, the dog lifted his head, panting toward the sound.

“His spirits are up," Keays said. "He wants to work."

Contact Kyle Hopkins at khopkins@adn.com