James Brady and the Police Dog

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2 min read

The passing of former White House press secretary James Brady, who dedicated his life to preventing suffering, reminded PETA President Ingrid E. Newkirk of another victim of the 1981 shooting of President Ronald Reagan by John Hinckley Jr.: Police Officer Thomas Delahanty.

Delahanty was a K-9 officer on security detail that day but without his dog, Kirk. Kirk, named after Ingrid, was unwell and had stayed back at Delahanty’s house. So instead of chasing bad guys with Kirk, Officer Delahanty was facing down a man who was trying to kill the president. Delahanty was shot in the neck and sustained permanent nerve damage, which ultimately forced him to retire. Ingrid attended Officer Delahanty and Kirk’s retirement party and wrote about it in her book Let’s Have a Dog Party!

One of the best dog parties I have ever attended was a retirement party for a police dog named Kirk. Kirk was a “throwaway” dog who ended up at the Washington Humane Society/SPCA at a time when I was the society’s director of cruelty investigations. The Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) has an excellent and humane training course for dogs. The graduate dogs live with the officers at home when not on duty, and when the dog’s days are done, he is retired to sit by the officer’s hearth (not the case in all police departments, where sometimes dogs are “retired” by being sold to the highest bidder, who may be a junkyard owner). Satisfied that a working dog with the MPD had a good life, if the MPD came looking for a dog, the society obliged.

Kirk worked with Officer Thomas K. Delahanty. In March 1981, Officer Delahanty was standing with other police officers outside a hotel in Washington waiting for President Reagan to arrive. Kirk hadn’t been feeling well and was resting back at Officer Delahanty’s home. On that morning, shots rang out, injuring President Reagan, White House press secretary James Brady, Secret Service agent Tim McCarthy, and Officer Delahanty.

Officer Delahanty retired soon after the incident from a disability caused by the wounds he incurred that day. He said that he was so glad that the MPD allowed him to retire Kirk, too, even though his dog was not officially ready to retire. Hence, the party, which was held in the Maryland countryside. Attending police dogs not only posed in their guardians’ police hats, but were allowed to jump in the pool!

In an odd twist of fate, the shooting of the president allowed Kirk to retire a few years early, although I’m sure he would have been happy to serve alongside Officer Delahanty for as long as necessary. While they all found ways to turn their tragedy into something positive, Delahanty and other survivors of the shooting did not escape without physical and emotional scars. PETA’s thoughts are with the Brady family and everyone who was affected by that day’s events.

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