Santa Ana Police K9 Puskas became famous on Feb. 26, 2018.
The then 9-year-old Dutch shepherd had dramatically helped apprehend a suspect in pursuit and also lost some teeth in the process.
“This parolee tried to run over a Garden Grove police officer, and he got away. And their undercover unit somehow found him in our city,” said Santa Ana Police Cpl. Luis Galeana, who was Puskas’ handler.
Video cameras caught Puskas taking a flying leap to finally apprehend the suspect in Irvine. During the takedown, Puskas’ front muzzle hit the curb and he broke all of his incisors. But fortunately, Galeana was told by his veterinarian that those aren’t the teeth K9s typically use as much.
“He didn’t need those teeth,” said Galeana. “Our dogs bite with the molars, not the front teeth.”
So, despite missing some teeth, Puskas continued another year working to help Santa Ana Police Department catch bad guys. He retired in 2019 with numerous apprehensions under his collar.
“He probably put about 18 people in jail, he took about 18 people in custody,” Galeana said.
On Feb. 18, 2022, at age 13, Puskas passed away after a successful career at the Santa Ana Police Department doing the work he loved, and following some very good years of retirement.
“He turned into a fabulous family dog,” Galeana said.
Galeana and Puskas beceame partners in 2015. Puskas had been with another handler for about a-year-and-a-half when that handler retired.
Besides the famous takedown Puskas became known for, he stood out in Galeana’s mind as a great police dog because of his instincts. There was the time when Puskas, in the middle of searching for a potentially dangerous suspect, accidentally entered the home of an elderly man.
“I look left and the man’s back [door]slider is open,” Galeana said.
Galeana immediately called out for Puskas and the dog quickly returned.
“He comes out running like, ‘What’s going on?’” Galeana said.
Galeana checked on the resident and the man told Galeana that Puskas came in, sniffed him and went on to sniff the rest of the house.
“He probably looked at him and said, ‘I don’t think you’re the guy I’m looking for,’” said Galeana of Puskas. “I think Puskas was an incredible dog.”
There was also the time when, while pursuing a man who was a suspect in a stabbing, Puskas locked in on the suspect in the Santa Ana riverbed. Galeana recalled Puskas running past three transients and into a tent in the homeless encampment. Puskas apprehended the suspect in the tent.
“Puskas was really able to lock on this guy,” Galeana said. “He could have bit four different transients that day and he didn’t. He bit the right person inside the tent.”
For a dog who loved his job, Galeana knew the transition to retirement would need to be slow and steady.
“He loved to work,” Galeana said. “I knew that it was going to be difficult for him to retire.”
But almost 10 at the time, Galeana felt Puskas had done his job.
“I wanted to make sure his retirement was a good one and not retire with only a few years left,” he said. “Just like a normal person, you don’t want to work too long.”
Prior to retirement, Puskas had never been inside Galeana’s home. K9 handlers must maintain a careful balance, knowing that if the family gets too attached to a dog, it could make things more difficult.
“It makes my job a lot more difficult to send him into a potentially dangerous situation,” Galeana said.
But once retired, Puskas was fully integrated into the household. A few months before retirement, Galeana slowly started letting Puskas in the house more often. Galeana also knew he had to get Puskas used to not being with him when he left for work.
“Once he saw me getting dressed for work, he knew where we were going and he would get super, super excited,” Galeana said.
So he started getting Puskas used to seeing him leave. He would get in the car and circle the neighborhood and come right back.
“I remember during that time he’d lose his mind,” he said.
But as Puskas saw him return every time, he got less and less excited about Galeana leaving. Galeana graduated from one drive around the block, to two, to three.
“Slowly, slowly he just got used to being OK with that,” Galeana said. “It’s OK, I’m going to go to work, but I’m going to come back.”
Eventually, Puskas saw Galeana leave and thought it best to stay in bed.
“That was my goal,” Galeana said, “that he didn’t lose his mind that he wasn’t going to work with me.”
While Puskas relaxed more at home, he was the ideal protection dog for the family.
“Very protective, especially with my daughter,” Galeana said. “I had the safest house on the block.”
And whenever Galeana was home, they were still attached at the hip.
“He never left my side when I was home,” Galeana said. “If I walked to the kitchen, he’s there. … If I go to the bathroom, he’s there with me. When I would leave, he’d go and hang out with my daughter or my wife. He knew when I’d get home. He’d greet me right at the front door when I came in. I really miss that.”
Puskas’ retirement years were happy for the whole family. And Puskas even sired some puppies of his own before he passed. About 10 litters, to be exact. Galeana has two of his puppies, Gigi, who is now 1, and Puskas, Jr., who is 7 months.
“They’re just fantastic dogs,” Galeana said. “I was very happy to have some of his offspring before he died.”