Thunder paved the way for K-9 police dogs in county

May 13—MERCER — A beloved K-9 who paved the way for other police dogs in Mercer County is gone.

Thunder, a Belgian Malinois/shepherd mix, was born May 4, 2014, and died March 26.

He was stationed in Pymatuning Township inside Reynolds School District from 2015 to 2019. His handler was then-Pymatuning Township police officer Anthony Settle. Settle began work as a Mercer County detective in 2019, retiring Thunder. Settle is now the county's chief detective.

Settle said Reynolds School District was never the same again once Thunder struck.

The program was born in September 2015, and Settle is proud of what he helped start.

"He set the way in the county," Settle said. "Through the help of Reynolds School District and Pymatuning Township, we created the first K-9 in Mercer County. We re-established it and it took off from there."

Shenango Township, Hermitage and Sharon followed suit with K-9s of their own.

"It took off like wildfire after that. It was great," Settle said. "We trained with everybody in the county. It was nice."

When Thunder was the only K-9 in the county, the team was called out like crazy, Settle said.

"We got to work. The dog knows what to do. It's training us that's the hardest part," Settle said.

Thunder was an excellent tracking dog, according to Settle, although his tracking really developed after their first year together because Settle was still learning to read Thunder's behaviors.

"A dog really can't control their natural reaction so I had to learn what those were," Settle said. "Knowing that his head went up or his tail changed, then I knew he was on the correct odor."

Thunder and Settle had a 95% success rate in tracking. They had 24 criminal apprehensions together with no bites, Settle said.

"We'd be able to get down there and a good dog drags you to the dangerous spot and that's what he did," Settle said.

Settle remembers the first time he and Thunder went out as a team. They were assisting Greenville police in tracking a wanted felon. The suspect had climbed up into a barn and Settle sent Thunder up into the barn and he was walking around and stopped. So Settle climbed up into a little hole and the suspect was right there. They arrested him successfully.

"That kind of kick-started our training and we did something new every time," Settle said.

Another time, things went less smoothly. The team was assisting Greenville police, and Thunder thought it was a good idea to sniff the fence at a pasture where a horse was standing nearby.

"The fence was electric, so he developed a hatred toward horses because he thought the horse did it," Settle said.

In addition to being a tracking dog, Thunder was trained for narcotics detection.

"We had an uptick on fines, but that allowed us to identify students that needed additional resources," Settle said.

Settle said once Thunder got into the school district, he was amazing. The problems went down to zero.

"The kids and their interaction with him," Settle said. "It just really changed the whole atmosphere of the school district."

Settle said Thunder was a huge asset.

"It was the most rewarding and most challenging thing I've ever done in my career," Settle said. "It was the best thing I ever did. I do miss it."

Thunder unfortunately had some bladder issues. In September he had bladder stones and had surgery that went well. In January and February he had difficulty urinating. He had two more surgeries, but infection took hold.

Settle got to spend Thunder's last hours with him.

"It hit hard," Settle said. "He was my partner. I spent more time with him than my wife and kids."

But Settle said he knew that Thunder had been in pain before his passing.

Settle has a wife, Ashley, and two children, Luke and Kendall, who grew up with Thunder.

When he was working they had an indoor/outdoor kennel.

"He knew work was over when we hit the driveway," Settle said. "He was fantastic with the children."

Thunder was an inside dog when he retired.

"Once he retired, in the house and on the couch he went," Settle said. "I think he enjoyed retirement."

Settle said he'll never find a dog like Thunder again.

"Just an amazing dog," Settle said. "You got that guy who will give his life up for you at the blink of an eye whether it is on a traffic stop or in a building where somebody's trying to attack you. He was willing to give his life and in return, I gave him a nice retired life."

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