‘It’s a way of life’: Fox Chapel officer devoted to life and service with police dogs

With the Fox Chapel police, Officer Robert Katich is well regarded for the K-9 program he started 23 years ago.

But his renown in the field extends beyond the woodsy suburb. Over the decades, he has become a nationally recognized master dog trainer who has trained more than 1,000 dogs for use in law enforcement, government agencies and the military.

The role comes naturally. Passionate about dogs since his youth, he grew up in a police officer family.

“It’s a way of life. It’s 24 hours a day. K-9s and handlers require continued monthly training to remain proficient,” said Katich, a 29-year veteran officer, the last 26 of those serving Fox Chapel.

Katich earned his degree in criminal justice from Edinboro University in 1992. He previously worked for the Anne Arundel County (Md.) Police Department.

Katich, 53, is a lifetime member and master trainer for the North American Police Work Dog Association. A frequent instructor at K-9 seminars nationwide, he’s led sessions in European locations such as Slovakia and the Netherlands.

Many police dogs come from Europe—such as Falco, the 10-year-old Dutch shepherd who is Fox Chapel’s K-9. While many American dogs are bred as pets or to show, more European nations have a tradition of breeding dogs for service.

The dogs generally are trained in their native languages. Katich communicates with Falco using phrases in Dutch. As an added advantage in police situations, the second language “allows the officer to control the suspect and the dog without confusion,” Katich said.

Never far from the officer’s side, Falco lives with Katich in his White Oak home.

“Your K-9 partner isn’t your pet. We develop an extremely close bond,” he said. “Handlers spend more time with their K-9s than they do with their families.”

Joyce Hanz | Tribune-Review

K-9 Falco outside of the Fox Chapel police station

Two other police dogs, Keno and Havoc, have served on the Fox Chapel force. As a measure of his devotion to the role, Katich has paid for the purchase of each dog, an expense that can run to $20,000 because of the breeding and training involved. The borough covers the dogs’ food and veterinary costs.

Before coming to Fox Chapel, Falco required 12 weeks of training to become certified, Katich said.

All K-9s in Allegheny County are able to assist other departments when requested. Falco has worked alongside Katich throughout Allegheny County, as well as Butler, Armstrong, Washington and Fayette counties.

Katich said Falco is trained as a dual-purpose canine — patrol and narcotics. He can locate evidence, track and search for narcotics. He recalled one search by Falco that resulted in the dog locating fentanyl-laced heroin in a baby seat inside a vehicle.

“Falco is a presence. People don’t want to get bit by a dog,” he said, referring to suspects. “K-9s can be preventive and can calm a situation.”

Katich’s expertise was on display at Shallow Creek Kennels, where he was a lead canine instructor. In Mercer County, it’s one of the largest training facilities for police dogs in the country.

John Brannon, president of Shallow Creek Kennels, met Katich at a police dog seminar and has worked with him for more than 25 years. He commended Katich’s long career as a handler.

“He’s a very talented trainer because he can read the dogs. It takes a lot of time and patience, and some people have a God-given talent for it,” Brannon said.

Fox Chapel Police Chief Michael Stevens said having a canine program in the borough is of great value.

“It’s hard to describe the bond the Fox Chapel officers and K-9s create while serving together,” Stevens said. “When answering a violent call, it’s reassuring to know they had your back.”

Stevens seconded Katich’s observation that being a police dog’s handler isn’t a job title but a committed lifestyle.

“The community and I are truly grateful and safer because of Officer Katich’s efforts,” Stevens said.

Falco is nearing retirement age (usually about 11), but Katich said the decision on when to retire a dog is an individual one.

“I can always tell by how the dog searches,” Katich said. “It’s different for every dog. That’s a judgment call.”

Joyce Hanz is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Joyce at 724-226-7725 , jhanz@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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