Indiana County has bade farewell to one of its best-known public figures.
“It is with great regret we announce that (Tuesday) morning, Sheriff (Robert) Fyock and office staff gave a final salute to K9 Deputy Bak,” the county sheriff’s office announced in a news release.
Bak was 11ﾽ years old. In the summer of 2011, Fyock brought home Bak, an all-black German shepherd trained to find narcotics and to track people or missing evidence.
“No matter what we did, he was probably the best known dog in the county,” Fyock said this morning. “We would go someplace and they would start talking to the dog, and then start talking to me.”
The sheriff said the dog recently started suffering from failing health.
“I had him out of service for the past couple months,” Fyock said. “He wasn’t feeling very good.”
For over nine years Bak served with Fyock in narcotic detection and tracking, bringing awareness of the drug problem and educating citizens of all ages.
“He was a great public relations tool,” Fyock said. “With his help I was able to get the people’s attention, whether it was kids or senior citizens.”
Among Bak’s duties was accompanying Fyock for school programs and for community group presentations about the opioid crisis.
“I go out and talk to them, take my dog, do a demonstration and by the time we’re finished we’re best buddies,” Fyock said in a May 2019 story.
“They would see how I rewarded him and how we worked as a team,” Fyock recalled this morning. “He was just a phenomenal, phenomenal partner for me.”
Fyock said from the start Bak was considered a law enforcement officer, and that the same search laws that apply to the sheriff’s human deputies applied also to him. From Bak’s arrival in Indiana County, Fyock kept extensive records, showing when the dog accurately indicates the presence of narcotics and the charges that followed.
Long, accurate records build the dog’s credibility, the sheriff said in 2011.
Bak replaced Yukon, who had to be returned to the Von der Haus Gill Police K-9 Academy in Ohio for health problems in 2010.
“The other dog didn’t work out and I got Bak in his place,” the sheriff said.
A previous narcotic-detecting dog had to be euthanized after developing cancer in May 2010.
The county also had another dog that was trained in sniffing out explosives.
“We did have one through Region 13 but he was returned to them,” the sheriff said, referring to the regional public safety zone covering Pittsburgh and multiple southwestern Pennsylvania counties. “The handler left my office.”
Fyock said he will look into getting another K9 — but he clearly showed the loss of a friend, as well as fellow officer.
“I was with him more than anyone else over the past nine years, keeping him at home,” the sheriff recalled. “We were inseparable.”
In March 2018, Fyock and Bak were among recipients of Heart of a Champion Awards given at an Indiana Country Club dinner.
Organizers of that event sought to raise awareness of a growing opioid and heroin epidemic in Indiana and surrounding counties. It brought out more than 270 attendees and raised $111,000 toward treatment and recovery efforts of The Open Door and to prevention efforts of the Opioid Prevention and Community Health Initiative, developed by the Mid-Atlantic Research and Training Institute for Community and Behavioral Health at Indiana University of Pennsylvania.
“Run Free and Fly High, K9 Bak. We have it from here. Godspeed!” the release concluded. “EOW (End of watch) June 30, 2020.”