Search dog or sacred cow? Baltimore County: Not replacing Barney, the beloved rescue dog, was sensible decision.

March 20, 1997

GIVEN THE ENTHUSIASM with which the public embraced Barney, the Baltimore County rescue dog who died of cancer last year, county fire officials could have made a surefire public relations coup by trotting out Barney's replacement. It would have made a heart-warming story -- funds donated for Barney's cancer treatments buy a dog to carry on his heroic mission.

Instead, Baltimore County Fire Chief Paul Reincke decided not to replace Barney. The firefighter who handled Barney spent $1,000 of his own money on a new dog, making the department -- which has $38,000 left over from Barney's care -- look cheap. Nonetheless, Chief Reincke insists the current fire dog, Riggs, can handle the workload, so the money might as well be kept for his expenses.

The numbers bear him out. The fire department received calls for only 19 dog rescue operations in 1996, 10 in the county and nine in nearby jurisdictions. The local police department's rescue dog, Marcus, is busier with 50 to 65 rescues a year, but not too busy to back up Riggs, police say. State police and law enforcement authorities in Delaware, Cecil County and southern Pennsylvania all have rescue dogs, too. In the event of simultaneous emergencies or a large-scale disaster, police say they can have 15 rescue dogs here within two hours, flying them in by helicopter if necessary.

So investing in a second dog doesn't make a lot of sense. The Barney fund does not cover the cost of the rescue program. It can't be used for manhours (as opposed to doghours), such as overtime for handlers, and is a finite resource for canine-related costs.

Also, the reduction in dogpower is not as great as has been assumed. At one point, the fire department had three rescue dogs -- Barney, Mattie and Riggs. But Riggs was brought on board in preparation for Barney's demise and/or Mattie's retirement. Fire officials never intended more than a two-dog force.

If the demand for canine rescue increases, the department can always hire more help; it would be nice if Beauregard, the golden retriever that Barney's former handler generously purchased and is training for volunteer duty, got first shot at the job. For now, though, it looks as if the fire chief's unsentimental decision was a sensible one.

Pub Date: 3/20/97.

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