The Heartrending Tale of Kitt the Police Dog and His Human Partner

Braintree officer Bill Cushing needed a partner. Kitt, an expertly trained German Shepherd, needed a purpose. Together, they rescued each other.

Bill Cushing and his K-9 partner, Braintree police dog Kitt / Photo by Kevin Wiles Jr.

Bill Cushing was exercising in his home gym when he got the call. It was a little before 1 p.m. on June 4, 2021, and the Braintree police officer thought he could get a workout in before his shift started while Kitt, his police dog for the past decade, slept in his kennel. When Cushing suddenly heard sirens, though, and his iPhone lit up with the Braintree Police Department number, he knew his day was about to start early.

A domestic violence call had come in, explained the dispatcher, and the department needed Cushing and Kitt to help find the suspect. Cushing hung up and rushed into his house to put on his uniform. Kitt, an 11-year-old German Shepherd–Belgian Malinois mix, snapped to attention. It was time to go to work.

Cushing, a 6-foot-tall, dark-haired man with piercing blue eyes, pulled a bulletproof vest over his head, velcroing it tight to his trim, fit chest, and strapped on his utility belt, complete with a taser, mace canister, baton, and .45-caliber department-issued SIG Sauer semi-automatic handgun. Then he ran back outside to let Kitt out of his kennel. The dog was raring to go, but instead of speeding ahead, the well-trained canine loped along in lockstep with his partner before leaping into the back seat of Cushing’s police cruiser.

Scrambling behind the wheel, Cushing backed out of his driveway and drove toward the scene on McCusker Drive, listening to the radio chatter and speeding up as he heard the action escalate. The dispatcher reported that the suspect possibly had two firearms. A nearby middle school had already locked down, and the suspect, who was on foot, had fled into the woods behind the massive Braintree Village apartment complex.

Cushing knew the spot. He had grown up not far from there, plus those woods had been the site of many police incidents where he and Kitt had tracked assailants in the past. They were thick, thorny, and difficult to navigate.

There weren’t many places on the South Shore where the duo hadn’t tracked someone since Kitt joined the force in 2011. In fact, during their time together, he and Kitt had become South Shore legends, earning a police department medal of valor and locating dangerous felons, including fugitives, drug dealers, and rapists too numerous to count. From Quincy to Brockton to Cape Cod, police officials knew to call Cushing and Kitt when they needed a top-notch tracker.

Kitt wasn’t merely Cushing’s partner: They were best friends—family, even—together 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Deeply connected, they’d saved each other’s lives during confrontations with armed criminals and were trained to do it again, if necessary.

By the time Cushing whipped his cruiser into the parking lot at the edge of the woods, other officers were there, and some of them already had their weapons drawn. Kitt barked, seeming to know he and his partner were headed into battle. A policeman directed Cushing and Kitt to the last-known spot where the fugitive was seen. Kitt immediately picked up the scent, and they were off. Thorns snagged Cushing’s uniform while leaves and sticks crunched under his police boots. They charged into the brush, venturing deeper and deeper into the woods. Kitt tugged forcefully at his leash, almost dragging Cushing into a sprint.

Soon, Kitt yanked the leash and leaped toward a large rock, trying to tell Cushing that behind it, the armed man they were after was hiding and ready to pounce.

Photo by Matt Kalinowski

Several years earlier, on a warm July day in 2011, Cushing and a sergeant from the Braintree police department climbed into a rented van with Mark O’Reilly, the master K-9 trainer from the Massachusetts Department of Correction. They headed southwest toward a police-dog training center in Bethany, Connecticut. When they arrived, they drove past the facility’s chain-link gate peppered with “Beware Dog” signs and parked in front of the kennel.

Cushing didn’t yet know much about being a K-9 officer. He’d been a beat cop for the past six years, following his father into the profession to make a difference in his hometown. But now, in his early 30s, he wanted more action and to make a greater contribution to keeping his hometown safe. He believed that becoming a K-9 officer was the way to do it.

Not every cop can become a K-9 officer. Candidates need to have experience as a patrolman, be hardworking, incredibly fit, and, most of all, catch the attention of their police chief, who has final say. Once an officer is selected, he or she must undergo hundreds of hours of specialized training before getting to work with their dog, at which point the police officer joins an elite circle. Out of several types of K-9 officers, trackers who search for suspected criminals and missing children—as opposed to those who work with bomb- or drug-detecting dogs—are the most elite. Once Cushing was certified to work with a dog, he became one of roughly 100 K-9 officers across the South Shore who responded to calls needing his assistance in the region.

At the training facility, the officers emerged from their vehicle to a chorus of dogs barking inside the long white building. One of the facility’s trainers greeted them, then went back inside, where he walked down a long aisle. On either side were a series of kennels bearing clipboards with dogs’ names written on them. When he reached a kennel marked “Ciro,” he let out a German Shepherd and led the dog outside, where Cushing and the others were waiting not far from an open training field.

Cushing watched the trainers put Ciro through his paces. First, the handlers fired a blank from a gun and looked on as Ciro remained unphased by the sound. Then they tossed a ball into the field, spun the dog around to disorient him, and watched as he took off, tracking the scent in the grass and returning quickly with the ball. He’s perfect, Cushing thought, excited at the prospect of partnering with Ciro. He did everything the trainers asked, seemed to have a good temperament, and was a good-looking animal.

Then the facility’s trainer had an idea. “Hold on,” he said. “We have one dog that came in last night.” He ducked back into the kennel and re-emerged with a mangy-looking mutt with matted hair. He’d just arrived from Slovakia, Cushing would learn. He wasn’t a purebred but a combination of Shepherd and Belgian Malinois. His name was Kitt.

Much smaller than Ciro, Kitt had big pointy ears that stood straight up and a funny look in his eye. Cushing didn’t like what he saw.

O’Reilly, though, wasn’t paying attention to Kitt’s looks but to the way he strode out of his kennel with an attitude, as though the creature knew exactly where he belonged. He was merely 11 months old and was green—he hadn’t yet been trained to track scents. Yet as soon as he came out of the kennel, he immediately spotted a 5-gallon bucket filled with water that had some toys in it. He attacked the bucket with a vengeance, toppling it over and thrashing it around.

“We’ll take him,” O’Reilly said.

Ah, fuck, Cushing thought. Now this filthy, funny-looking dog with no tracking experience was coming home with him. Still, O’Reilly had been training K-9s for close to two decades, and he knew a thing or two about matching dogs with officers. He saw something in Kitt, who seemed to have an edge. He was clearly an alpha dog. “He has something wild in him,” O’Reilly told Cushing on the way back to Braintree. “He wants to be the best.”

In that sense, Kitt was a lot like Cushing.

In 2011, Officer Bill Cushing’s dream of becoming a K-9 officer came true when he and Kitt were paired together. Over the years, Kitt would become more than just his partner. He became his best friend. / Photo by Kevin Wiles Jr.

The next 16 weeks served as a boot camp for Cushing and Kitt. Each morning, Cushing’s alarm went off at 6:30 a.m., and the pair headed out for intensive eight-to-twelve-hour training sessions with O’Reilly and other K-9 trainers. When the weekend rolled around, Cushing and Kitt kept at it, training relentlessly.

Some days, they’d decamp to the Cape Cod Fairgrounds, where they spent hours tracking through the vast fields, stables, empty buildings, and surrounding forests. On other days, they went to the Bridgewater state prison complex, pulled through a high gate topped with razor-wire coils, and headed to a brick building on the complex that is no longer in use to track inside the eerily quiet abandoned cellblocks. Amid sprinting through the woods and following scents inside decrepit buildings, O’Reilly told Cushing that he had to learn to trust his dog, even when Cushing had his doubts.

Still, the most important part of the training took place at home, where the duo deepened a trusting relationship. When Cushing ate, Kitt was by his side. When Cushing climbed into bed after a long day of training, Kitt curled up in his own bed, right next to Cushing’s. When Cushing watched TV, Kitt was next to him on the couch. Kitt rode along with Cushing in his police car. They spent every moment together.

Cushing learned that for his partnership with Kitt to be successful, Kitt needed to believe that Cushing was the only person who would provide him with food, water, and affection, and that his own survival depended on Cushing’s safety. So for the first few weeks, Cushing only fed Kitt by hand. He would serve him a water bowl, and if Kitt didn’t drink, he would remove it. Cushing and Kitt often sprawled out in a vast green field, where Cushing would brush out Kitt’s coat. Cushing became everything to Kitt.

It was mutual. Cushing didn’t have a wife, girlfriend, or children. Kitt was the focus of his profession, his home life, and his affection. While his friends and colleagues enjoyed the beach on weekends and went on summer vacation, Cushing and Kitt trained and bonded.

As they grew closer, Cushing strove to be a better version of himself to match Kitt’s drive, while the dog always matched Cushing’s intensity. Kitt followed Cushing’s every command and trained like he never wanted to stop, often leaving Cushing physically exhausted. Seeing how fast and tireless Kitt was, Cushing, who was already a lifelong fitness buff, boosted his cardio training. He didn’t want to let Kitt down by not being able to keep up with him.

About halfway through Kitt and Cushing’s training, just before Labor Day weekend 2011, Cushing and Kitt went to the prison complex for a long, challenging tracking test to determine if the dog was taking to his instruction. A trainer, posing as a human decoy—clad in a protective bite suit—hid hundreds of yards away from the prison. Kitt picked up the scent and aggressively pursued, staying on the trail across concrete, grassy fields, thick brush, and a dirt path. When he spotted the trainer posing as a suspect, Kitt leaped at him, flying 10 feet through the air before latching onto the human decoy and nearly knocking him to the ground. Holy shit, Cushing thought. This dog actually works.

The other cops in attendance could hardly believe how fast, powerful, and dedicated Kitt was. O’Reilly shook his head in amazement. He was the one who’d chosen Kitt, and his instincts proved to be right. He told Cushing that he had a one-in-a-million K-9. The officer beamed.

“Congratulations,” O’Reilly told Cushing. “You are cleared hot,” which meant that Kitt was ready to finish his training and hit the streets.

Sixteen weeks after they started, Kitt and Cushing had their first assignment to track a bank robber who had just hit the downtown Braintree Citizens Bank on Washington Street. Kitt immediately picked up a scent at the bank and led Cushing down the road, where they discovered some cash that the robber had dumped before fleeing in a getaway car. Kitt’s discovery helped other officers pick up the trail and capture the robber. Kitt earned a doggie Chipwich from Cushing, a treat that would soon become Kitt’s regular reward for successfully tracking a suspect.

Many successful assignments followed. Word began to spread around the South Shore about Cushing and his exceptional K-9 partner, and soon calls flooded Braintree from surrounding towns requesting the duo’s assistance. Cushing always answered their calls.

Sometimes, when the tracks were long and grueling, Cushing wondered if Kitt was still on the scent. Then he would hear O’Reilly’s voice in his head: Trust your dog—just trust him. So Cushing did, and Kitt never let him down.

Cushing soon grew to rely on Kitt in other ways, too. If Cushing became frustrated after a court hearing, he’d climb into his cruiser, turn to Kitt, and say, “You will never believe what just happened in there.” Then he’d tell his dog the story, venting about what went on in court while Kitt stared at Cushing as though he was taking it all in. If Cushing had an issue with a colleague at work or even a personal problem, he’d talk about it to Kitt. Soon, Kitt seemed to learn Cushing’s every mood. If Cushing was having a rough day, Kitt would intuitively rest his head on him—
Cushing thought it was Kitt’s way of saying, It’s all good, I get it.

Before Cushing knew it, Kitt wasn’t just his partner; they were best friends. He felt as though it was him and Kitt against the world.

Word began to spread around the South Shore about Cushing and his exceptional K-9 partner, and soon calls flooded Braintree from surrounding towns requesting the duo’s assistance.

In the early hours of a late March day in 2016, Cushing was asleep when his phone rang. It was his lieutenant. A man had allegedly threatened the mother of his two children, Cushing’s superior explained, and was on the loose, drunk, and carrying a knife. “We need you and Kitt to find this guy,” he ordered.

“I’m on my way,” Cushing said.

Kitt was already up and standing at attention. He seemed to sense, by the call’s tone, that they were going to work. In the cruiser’s back seat, Kitt barked as they drove with sirens screaming and lights flashing toward Braintree Highlands, the neighborhood where the suspect had last been seen.

When they arrived at a house on Liberty Street, according to an incident report from the Braintree Police Department, they were met by two officers, one with a shotgun and the second with a weapon that fired so-called “less-lethal” beanbag rounds designed to stop a suspect.

Kitt picked up the scent of his target, 44-year-old Robert Dussourd, in the front yard of the house where Dussourd had last been seen. Kitt led Cushing and other officers through several backyards, and onto East Division Street, where Kitt stopped and attempted to dive under a car parked in a driveway. The officers knew that’s where the man they were after was hiding.

Cushing gripped Kitt’s leash in his left hand, shining his flashlight underneath the vehicle to see what the fugitive might be holding in his hands. As the beam of light passed over Dussourd, Cushing recalls seeing that Dussourd’s face bore a thousand-mile stare, as though he was looking straight through the officer.

“Come out, man,” Cushing said to Dussourd.


“Hey buddy, I don’t want my dog to bite you,” Cushing added. “Just come out, give up.”

Kitt sat still, riveted, waiting for Cushing’s command to pounce. Then Dussourd poked his head up from under the car and looked directly at him.

“Fuck you,” Dussourd allegedly said, according to a Norfolk District Attorney’s report. “I’m going to kill you.”

An instant later, the suspect darted out from under the car, pulled a large kitchen knife out of his pants, and advanced toward Cushing and Kitt.

“Drop the knife,” Cushing recalls yelling. “My dog’s gonna bite you.”

Dussourd kept moving toward them, leaving Cushing no choice. He released his grip on the leash. Kitt leaped through the air toward Dussourd and sunk his teeth into the suspect’s right hip. Dussourd wailed and began flailing his knife, trying to stab Kitt in the neck.

Dussourd moved closer to Cushing, swinging the knife as Kitt thrashed and growled, locked onto his hip. Cushing was terrified that he would stab Kitt.

“Less lethal!” an officer on the scene shouted, according to a Braintree police incident report, signaling for his partner to unleash a volley of shots from the pellet gun. The shots hit Dussourd three times—in the stomach, back, and arm—but didn’t slow him. Enraged, he advanced, stabbing at the air just inches from Cushing, who shoved him away with his right hand.

Cushing sensed it was a shoot-or-be-killed situation, but feared he might strike Kitt while trying to hit the suspect. Drawing his department-issued gun from his holster, he fired two quick rounds, and Dussourd fell to the ground, with Kitt still biting him. Cushing rushed over and grabbed Kitt around the neck to release his bite. The two other officers dropped to the ground and immediately attempted CPR on Dussourd, but it was too late. Dussourd later died at the hospital.

Wanting to make sure that Dussourd hadn’t stabbed Kitt, Cushing inspected the dog’s body for injuries. When he found none, he bear-hugged Kitt, burying his face in his fur. “Good boy, Kitt,” he said. “We’re good, we’re good.”

Soon after, a sergeant walked over to Cushing and told him to get in the ambulance, explaining that another officer would take Kitt back to the station in Cushing’s cruiser.

Cushing didn’t want to leave Kitt.

“I’m fine,” he insisted. “I don’t need to go to the hospital.”

But it was department policy, and Cushing had to follow orders. “I’ve got to go, Kitt, but I’ll be back, don’t worry,” he said, staring his partner in the eyes. “We’re good, Kitt. We are going to be good.”

As Cushing stepped into the ambulance, another officer got behind the wheel of Cushing’s cruiser and drove Kitt toward the station. By all accounts, Kitt panicked. Throughout the ride, he barked and lunged at the protective bars between the front and back seats, upset at being separated from his partner.

Meanwhile, at the hospital, Cushing felt like a father separated from his child, worried that something might happen to Kitt in his absence. Over and over, he replayed checking Kitt’s body, worrying he had missed a knife wound. He also worried that Kitt hadn’t gotten his Chipwich reward for doing his job. Would Kitt think he had done something wrong when he had actually just saved Cushing’s life?

Underneath the anxiety was the shock of the shooting. Did that really just fucking happen? Cushing wondered. It wasn’t long before reality set in.

It had happened. He had killed a man.

Bill Cushing underwent more than 600 hours of specialized training with his dog, Kitt, before the two were ready to track fugitives or search for missing people. / Photo by Kevin Wiles Jr.

Just a month after the shooting, Cushing and Kitt, who were later awarded the Braintree Police Medal of Valor for protecting officers during the armed confrontation, traipsed through the same Braintree Highlands neighborhood, tracking another domestic violence suspect. Cushing was on high alert. His breathing was heavy, and his heart pounded. It was as though everything around him signaled danger. When Cushing stepped on a tree branch and it snapped, he drew his weapon. Another officer turned to look at him and asked if Cushing was okay.

Cushing had assured his chief that he was ready to return to work. Staying home, after all, felt like a sign of weakness. Plus, he didn’t want Kitt to think they weren’t working as a punishment for what had happened with Dussourd. But now, back in the field, drawing his gun at imaginary bad guys, it was obvious to Cushing that he wasn’t okay at all.

All of the signs of post-traumatic stress disorder were there. Cushing hadn’t been sleeping well. He hadn’t been eating much, either, and he had lost weight. His mind would not stay quiet. Over and over again, he replayed in his head what happened the night he’d killed Dussourd. He was sure he had done everything right—and the Norfolk District Attorney’s investigation ultimately cleared him of any criminal responsibility in the shooting—but none of it seemed to help. He couldn’t stop thinking about Dussourd’s children, who had lost their father.

Cushing knew he needed help. He began going to a therapist to talk about what he was going through. He also consulted Kitt’s vet about the dog’s own troubling behavior, sharing that Kitt, who had always been affectionate, had turned into a stage-five clinger. When they sat down to watch TV, Kitt sprawled his body across Cushing’s. When anyone came to the door, he aggressively barked. The vet said that Kitt also had PTSD and that Cushing’s emotions were traveling right down the leash into Kitt. Cushing knew he had to work hard to heal, not just for his own sake but also for Kitt’s. After several weeks of therapy, they went back to work and continued to excel.

Then, in 2018, Cushing had started dating a woman, and one morning that year, she stopped by Cushing’s house as he was getting ready for his shift. She had something important to tell him: She was pregnant.

Cushing’s head spun. This was hardly planned. His life was Kitt and work. There was no room for a family. Still, he told her, “I’ll do whatever it takes.”

She soon moved in with Cushing and Kitt, and in June 2019, their daughter was born. Cushing worried that Kitt might react poorly to his girlfriend and a baby in the house—in their house. After all, Kitt was so protective of Cushing and their territory. But just as Kitt had seemed to feel Cushing’s fear and trauma, Kitt seemed to also feel his love.

Kitt and the baby soon became friends. He played with her. She fell asleep resting on him. He wouldn’t let anyone other than Cushing and his girlfriend near her.

Kitt wasn’t the only one who was gaga over the baby. Cushing took to parenting like a natural. After all, Kitt had taught him how to care for another being, how to nurture, and how to put someone else’s needs before his own.

As parenting became a priority, Cushing began to work less. When the phone buzzed while he was off-duty, he now sometimes politely declined the assignment—something he’d never done before. His career didn’t suffer for it, though, quite the contrary. In fact, it was around that time that Kitt completed one of his most impressive manhunts of all time.

On July 3, 2020, Cushing and Kitt were called to track a gunman who had shot a 15-year-old girl inside the South Shore Plaza mall. The assailant was on the loose, and nearby residents were panicked.

Kitt picked up the gunman’s scent and he and Cushing were off. Flanked by O’Reilly and two other officers, Cushing and Kitt led them on a meandering, convoluted route over concrete, pavement, dirt, brush, and woods, with Kitt pulling Cushing along. When Kitt took the team across four lanes of a highway, one of the other K-9 officers couldn’t believe his eyes. How could a dog follow a scent across that many lanes of traffic where so many cars had already passed? From there, Kitt led the team over a guardrail and toward a wooded area. Sure enough, Kitt led Cushing to a shallow swamp and yanked at the leash. In the murky water, submerged up to his nose, was the gunman, who surrendered at the sight of Kitt baring his teeth and barking.

That winter, Cushing and his girlfriend welcomed their second daughter. Cushing began to dedicate more time to his growing family, and that meant turning down even more assignments. He learned he didn’t need to take every one, because there would always be another.

Soon after, the call for McCusker Drive came in.

On June 4, 2021, Kitt yanked Cushing through the thorny woods and swampland off McCusker Drive with two other officers, Matthew Donoghue and Richard Seibert, following behind. According to a Norfolk District Attorney’s report, they were chasing 34-year-old Andrew Homen after a woman called the police saying he had tried to choke her and put a gun to her head before fleeing.

Cushing could tell by the purpose with which Kitt was pulling him that Homen was either hiding somewhere nearby or that they were following his escape path. Suddenly, Kitt stopped and jumped up and down near a 4-foot-tall rock. Kitt was telling him Homen was behind it.

“Show me your hands!” Cushing shouted. “Show me your hands!”

Homen emerged with his gun drawn.

“Drop the gun,” one of the officers shouted. “Drop the fucking gun.”

Kitt leaped at Homen, aiming to sink his teeth into him so Cushing could make the arrest, just as they had done together before. Instead, according to the Norfolk District Attorney’s office, Homen fired three times, and Kitt flew backward, landing on the ground.

Cushing raised his weapon, fired at Homen, and thought he hit him, according to the DA’s report. Homen doubled over and started backing up, but continued firing at the officers, who fired back at him.

Cushing ran out of bullets. He tried to reload his SIG Sauer but couldn’t move his left arm.

“I can’t reload,” he said to the other officers, confused by what was happening.

“Why?” Seibert asked.

When Cushing looked down, he immediately knew the answer. It looked like his left arm had been partially blown off. “I’m hit,” he shouted before falling backward onto the ground, right next to Kitt. Donoghue also shouted that he’d been hit. Seibert unleashed a volley of shots from his rifle at Homen—pop, pop, pop.

The woods suddenly went quiet. Homen was mortally wounded, and Cushing was still lying on the ground, his left arm in searing pain. He recalls turning his head to the side to find himself face-to-face with Kitt. He stared into his best friend’s eyes and watched as the life drained out of them.

Cushing feared he wasn’t far behind. He was losing a lot of blood and was fighting for his life. He thought of his young daughters. If he died, they wouldn’t remember him. I’m not dying in these shitty woods, he remembers telling himself.

He heard someone shout, “Where’s the ambulance?” Then Seibert, standing over Cushing, tied a tourniquet around Cushing’s arm.

“He shot my dog,” Cushing told him.

“He’s gone, Bill,” Seibert said.

Cushing heard leaves rustling under the feet of a small army of boots, the unmistakable sound of police gear clinking and clanking from nearby cops. The officers placed Cushing onto a stretcher. Cushing looked up to see an officer staring at his injuries in horror. Cushing felt himself fading from consciousness. One of the officers slapped his face. “Wake up, Bill,” he pleaded. “Wake up.”

As they carried him out of the woods and loaded him into the ambulance, Cushing opened his eyes and saw an officer crying. The door slammed, sirens blared, and the driver sped toward the hospital. Staring at the ceiling, Cushing noticed what looked like a blinding white light. He tried to focus. He thought of his daughters. I’m still alive, he told himself. I’m not going to die.

Cushing stands with a statue of Kitt. / Photograph by Matt Kalinowski

One week following the shooting, after undergoing a handful of reconstructive surgeries, Cushing went home from the hospital with his left arm in a sling and a full police procession. As their SUV passed through the town square, Cushing waved with his good arm out of the open window at the crowds of Braintree residents who had come out to cheer him on after learning of his release.

When they pulled into Cushing’s driveway, Cushing opened the car door and stepped out, but stopped at his front door. He couldn’t bring himself to go inside. He picked up his phone and called O’Reilly.

“I can’t go in. I can’t do it,” he said.

“You have to,” O’Reilly replied.

Cushing worked up the nerve to enter his home. Everything was still there: Kitt’s bowl, the bed that still smelled like Kitt, and dog hair on the couch. Everything but Kitt himself.

At first, other K-9 officers watched over Cushing 24 hours a day, aware of the loss he was experiencing. Ten days after Cushing’s release from the hospital, a Braintree officer drove Cushing to the Cartwright Funeral Home in Braintree. He parked the car, and they went inside. (Read Kitt’s obituary here.)

“I need some time alone with him,” Cushing said.

The funeral home staff escorted Cushing into the viewing room, where Kitt’s body lay in a coffin draped in an American flag.

Cushing pulled up a chair and sat down, lowering his head onto Kitt’s body, and wept. For one last time, it was just the two of them, as it had always been.

Cushing thanked his partner for everything he had done for him, including taking those first bullets and buying the officers precious extra seconds that saved Cushing’s life. After about 20 minutes, Cushing wiped his tears. It was time for Kitt’s final send-off.

Dozens of police in sharp-pressed uniforms from across the state lined the Cartwright parking lot and street out front as six K-9 officers—led by O’Reilly—carried the dog’s casket and placed it into the back of a black hearse. A procession of police vehicles slowly made its way south to Gillette Stadium as news helicopters whirred overhead, broadcasting the event on live TV.

O’Reilly and the other pallbearers unloaded Kitt’s casket from the hearse and carried it onto the stadium turf, which was painted with a large, white message that read: “K-9 Kitt, End of Watch, 6-4-21.” Braintree Police Chaplain Reverend Paul Clifford stood at a microphone, addressing the thousands of police officers in attendance. “Kitt knew one thing and one thing only on June 4, 2021: There was a threat on the loose,” he said. “A threat to his handler and the people of Braintree…Kitt answered the call to neutralize that threat, and it cost him his life.”

As “Taps” solemnly echoed across the stadium, officers removed the American flag from Kitt’s casket, folded it into a tight, neat triangle, and presented it to Cushing. Then all of the officers lined up and paid their respects to Kitt.

Back at Cushing’s home, it would be nearly a year before he had the heart to take down Kitt’s outdoor kennel, where Kitt would rest while Cushing worked out in the garage. Today, Cushing is still working out, rehabbing his left arm, but is unable to do his job because he has not regained full use of his limb. Instead of pouring his energy into Kitt and police work, he now runs a foundation in Kitt’s name. It provides support to injured K-9 teams as well as protective gear, including bulletproof vests, to dogs in hopes that they will save the life of a canine as brave as Kitt. A bronze statue will soon stand in Braintree in memory of Kitt.

First published in the print edition of the August 2023 issue, with the headline, “Brave Heart.”