Fearless companion

Ferris graduate and canine officer talks about canine partner and companion

Loyal Partners: Robert Fortney and Dasty at Detroit Metro Airport with Airforce One on the runway during Obama’s recent visit to Ann Arbor, MIch. Photo Courtesy of Robert Fortney
“There’s no better job in the world than working a police canine.”

Robert Fortney, a canine police officer from the Wayne County Airport, is speaking about Dasty, his canine companion and former work partner.

Dasty is a former TSA employee. Born Oct. 1, 2003 in the Netherlands, Dasty is a Belgian Shepherd/Malinois. Recently, Dasty was diagnosed with cancer in her lymph nodes and has since retired as a TSA employee.

“She’s still alive, she’s doing well. The cancer is still there, but it has subsided,” Fortney said in a recent update on Dasty. He said she is at home as a pet of his.

The Torch received the opportunity to interview Fortney in February when he was taking Dasty on a tour throughout Michigan. One of his stops was Ferris State University, where he was once a student. Fortney had Dasty demonstrate some of her “cat-like” reflexes in the Torch office.

Fortney graduated in 1987 with a major in business. He was also on the varsity swim team for four years. Fortney said he worked for a business bureau, but felt like something was missing from his life.

He decided to join the National Guard. After finding out about an opening for a reserve officer in Farmington, he applied and became a full-time police officer.

“Even when I was at Ferris, I wanted to be a police officer,” Fortney said.

In 2007, he was introduced to Dasty. There was an opening for a canine police officer position. He took the job. Fortney has had her for five years now.

“Being a police officer is one thing, but I really wanted to be a canine police officer. To me, that’s the ultimate. I’d pass up promotion opportunities to stay with the canine,” Fortney said.

Dasty was trained in Germany and takes commands in German. While at work, she would walk around the airport, sniffing unattended bags, vehicles and cargo. She got to work a Presidential detail when President Barack Obama spoke in Ann Arbor earlier this year.

During her time as an employee, Fortney said they trained every day to fight terrorism. Dasty’s main job was to prevent a tragedy.

“You can’t just walk into it. You’ve got some dues to pay and prove you’re a good patrol officer. Do it of the love of the dog, not for the incidental benefits,” Fortney said.

“All her life, she’s been at an optimal level of fitness. These dogs are Olympic athletes,” Fortney said.

Fortney described Dasty as “awesome, relentless and focused.” He said it was amazing to watch Dasty do her job.

“I’ve always appreciated dogs. We’ve had Belgians for over 20 years in our house,” Fortney said.

Fortney and Dasty worked the day shift. She was available for any canine calls in the Metro Detroit Airport, including unattended bags and suspicious vehicles. Fortney said it wasn’t work for Dasty, but a game to her.

“We were doing President Obama’s motorcade a couple of years ago,” Fortney said. Dasty has completed tasks such as searching 25-30 cars. She once searched an SUV occupied by Michigan’s first female governor. Fortney said she hopped in and former Governor Jennifer Granholm was sitting in the vehicle.

Fortney and Dasty have met some famous individuals while on the job. Some of those individuals include Robert Delano from Stone Temple Pilots, Gene Simmons from KISS and Jason Reichman, the director of movies such as “Juno” and “Up In the Air” – the movies were being filmed at the time. He has also met Barry Sanders, the former running back for the Detroit Lions.

Now, Dasty is spending her days at Fortney’s home with his family.

“I’ve been lucky to have her, and I’m not ashamed to say it – she’s been lucky to have me. We’re a great team,” Fortney said.