K9 Atlas retires after 7 years with MPD

Published 5:55 pm Thursday, March 28, 2024

By Jay Compton



The Middlesboro Police Department has announced the retirement of K9 Atlas after seven years of service.

Atlas, a Belgian Malinois, was born September 10, 2015 in Poland. One year later, with only a passport, he boarded an airplane and headed to the United States to meet his new owner, K9 Sgt. Harvey Johnson.

“Most people don’t realize the process of acquiring and training a police dog,” said Middlesboro Police Chief Petie Gilbert,. “We do a lot of research on the type of dog we want, the breeders, and the trainers before we make that decision.”

According to the American Kennel Club, Belgian Malinois are renowned for their exceptional qualities, making them outstanding choices for police work. Their versatility, intelligence, agility, and unwavering loyalty set them apart as one of the most preferred breeds for law enforcement tasks.

“We chose this breed because their intelligence enables them to quickly grasp commands and learn complex tasks, making them highly trainable for a variety of roles such as patrol work, scent detection, and search operations,” Johnson said. “Their agility and athleticism allow them to navigate various terrains effortlessly, ensuring they can effectively pursue suspects or search vast areas with precision and speed. Additionally, their keen sense of smell and strong work ethic make them ideal for scent detection tasks like searching for narcotics.”

Johnson noted that Belgian Malinois possess a natural protective instinct coupled with an unwavering loyalty to their handlers, ensuring they will fearlessly defend and protect their human partners when necessary. This combination of intelligence, athleticism, scenting ability, and loyalty makes Belgian Malinois invaluable assets in law enforcement, helping to keep communities safe and secure.

“After we picked Atlas up in North Carolina, he went through an 8-week training course with Integrity K9,” Gilbert said. “Trainer Dan Cliff focused the training on obedience, tracking, apprehension, narcotics, building search, and article search. After that, Atlas and Harvey went through another 8-week course together where Harvey was taught how to be a handler and how to read Atlas.”

Atlas has served the City of Middlesboro by Johnson’s side for the last seven years.

“We’ve had a great career together,” Johnson said. “Atlas has tracked suspects through these mountains, helped us keep a lot of drugs off the streets, and he’s spent a lot of time in our schools doing drug interdictions.”

With his tracking and searching training, Atlas is often used during lockdown drills and locker searches at local schools.

“We are very grateful to have Harvey and Atlas on speed dial when we need them,” Middlesboro Independent Schools Superintendent Waylon Allen said. “Knowing we have a well-trained K9 to run lockers and help us with drills is an important part of school safety.”

K9s typically retire between the ages of eight and 10 years and Atlas falls within that range. He was also diagnosed with hip dysplasia in the fall of 2023. His last day of work was Thursday, March 21, 2024.

“Although it is going to be hard for me to go work every day without him, I am grateful the city is allowing him to retire before his hip issues get worse,” Johnson said. “And, even though it may take him a little bit of time to adjust to the retirement life, I have a feeling he’s going to love all the belly rubs and evening walks with the family.”

MPD has another K9, Rahab, a Dutch Shepherd, who is partnered with Sgt. Nick Capps. Officer Morgan Justice will meet his new four-legged partner and begin training as the department’s newest K9 officer this week.