BENNINGTON — A well-known and honored member of local law enforcement is being remembered this week. K-9 Tarawa died recently after serving for more than a decade with the Vermont State Police and the Bennington County Sheriff’s Department.
Sgt. Wayne Godfrey of the Sheriff’s Department, his handler and partner, said the 93-pound dog was familiarly known in the community as the “Gentle Giant.” He said that was especially true among the hundreds of children the K-9 team met during visits to area schools around Southwestern Vermont.
Godfrey said Tarawa had gradually slowed down over the past few years with a tumor in his side, before dying on Nov. 6.
A memorial event to honor the dog is scheduled for Saturday at Equinox Pond in Manchester.
“He was a phenomenal companion through the years,” Godfrey said this week.
Tarawa and the team received several Vermont Police Canine Association awards, including Patrol Team of the Year, the Life Saving Award and the Iron Dog Award.
One life the dog saved was his, Godfrey said, referring to an incident when Tarawa alerted him to a person with a gun who might have been preparing to force a shootout with police.
The Canine Association posted a tribute to Tarawa that said in part, “He was the best kind of partner that any K9 Handler could have dreamed to have. His ability to capture a room, a person’s heart, or acceptance of all creatures was his best quality and characteristic. His favorite pastime hobby was playing fetch, particularly with a tennis ball or with the smallest stick he could find.”
A Nov. 15 Facebook post on Tarawa’s passing had received more than 1,400 likes and nearly 250 comments as of Thursday.
Nick Mayer, who is retired from the Vermont State Police, said in an email, “Tarawa was the one and only K-9 that I felt safe with and loved. I could be myself and never feared playing with him and he obeyed commands I told him. He was and will always have a place in my heart as well as most who knew him and Wayne Godfrey.”
Godfrey and Tarawa were together with the Vermont State Police for more than eight years, beginning in 2010, the sergeant said. Tarawa was with the Sheriff’s Department for almost three years.
BORN IN 2009
Tarawa, who was born Dec. 31, 2009, is named after the World War II battle on the Pacific atoll Tarawa, where an estimated 3,000 Marines were killed or wounded during a landing and a battle that was largely over in three days.
Godfrey said that as a pup in training the dog was called Zeus, but he was renamed when Vermont State Police Cpl. Ed Hunter, who had served in the Marines, was acting as a K-9 training mentor.
Tarawa’s volunteer civilian trainer was Sarah Hahn of Castleton, Godfrey said.
The VSP, Godfrey noted, also was modeled in some ways on the Marine Corps when the department was organized in 1947 under the state’s first commissioner of the Department of Public Safety, Major Gen. Merritt Edson, a former Marine and Medal of Honor winner in World War II.
Godfrey said he named his new K-9 Kronos, after the giant Titan in Greek mythology and the father of Zeus, who ruled from Mount Olympus.
Godfrey said an officer’s relationship with a K-9 invariably grows into a strong bond, one that is fostered by the dog living with the handler and family.
“They live with us, go on vacation with us,” he said. “It’s an extreme bond that is absolutely amazing.”
Tarawa has also helped train Kronos, Godfrey said, showing the same “Gentle Giant” patience he displayed over the years, especially allowing school children and others to get close and pet him.
Officer Robert Murawski, of the Bennington Police Department, whose K-9 partner is Gracie, said an informal gathering in honor of Tarawa will be held at noon at Equinox Pond, located off Prospect Street and Equinox Pond Road in Manchester.
Murawski said that if his K-9 Gracie “becomes half the dog Tawara was, she will have a great career.”