Animal Hero Award - Police K9 Frankie and Sgt. David Stucenski

This past July, Massachusetts suffered its first-ever K-9 Officer killed in the line of duty when Frankie, a decorated 11-year-old Belgian Malinois State Police dog was fatally shot by a fugitive in Fitchburg. He and his partner, Sgt. David Stucenski, were part of a team of officers attempting to negotiate with the fugitive for a peaceful surrender.

In recognition of K-9 Frankie’s ultimate sacrifice and illustrious career, and to honor his equally distinguished partner, Sgt. Stucenski, Dakin selected the pair for its Animal Hero Award for 2022. The award is given to an exceptional animal and handler whose valor and extraordinary devotion to people proved lifesaving in disastrous or challenging health circumstances.

K-9 Frankie and Sgt. Stucenski were paired up 10 years ago when Frankie was 15 months old. Sgt. Stucenski recalled, “Frankie was a very strong-willed dog and he pushed me to be a better handler. Through our relationship, I could push him to be a better dog. We had many ‘discussions’ in the beginning about who was in charge, but through trust, we brought out the best in each other.”

That trust led to the pair winning the state law enforcement Medal of Valor in 2017 for apprehending a suspect who opened fire on them, as well as three awards from the U.S. Police Canine Association in 2014.

Sgt. Stucenski, a 22-year veteran with the State Police, began Patrol K-9 work in 2006, then SWAT K-9 in 2010. He noted, “The human/dog relationship is much closer than having a human partner. They always want to give you 100% unless they are physically unable, and even then, they will try.”

In the sad days that followed Frankie’s death, Sgt. Stucenski said that he and his wife were “completely humbled” by the outpouring of support they received from people across the country.

When asked if there was one mission where Frankie’s intelligence and bravery were outstanding, Sgt. Stucenski replied, “It’s extremely hard to pinpoint one. He completed each mission with the bravery and intelligence that was Frankie.” What meant more, he said, were the accolades Frankie earned from teammates about how much better they felt when Frankie went out with them, whether it was finding a concealed suspect or leading the way through a dangerous area.

“In the SWAT K-9 community, we have a saying of ‘Paws before boots,’” explained Sgt. Stucenski. “Frankie lived that motto every day and wouldn’t want it any other way.”