Moorhead PAL goes to the dogs

K-9 Zeke with his toy replica.

Nancy Edmonds Hanson

Police dogs may have a fearsome reputation, but Moorhead K-9s Kash and Zeke are the top dogs in town.

The two 100-pound pooches not only sniff out drugs and help officers in apprehensions; they also charm children, who find the two handsome hounds irresistible when they meet at public events around town. Kash’s handler, Officer Zack Johnson, observes, “They draw kids like a magnet.” And the dogs — especially his partner, Kash — respond in kind when they’re off duty: “Kash is a very social dog. There are days when he’d rather be petted than go to work.”

That popularity has spawned another role: Chief four-legged fund-raisers for the Police Athletics and Activity League.

Nine-inch replicas of the pair are being sold to raise money for PAL, the non-profit through which officers build relationships with young people through sports and other activities. The plush toys are available at the Police Department and online at

The toys bear a striking resemblance to their namesakes. Zeke, who came to Moorhead from an Arizona breeder in 2021, is a German shepherd with a black coat accented with brown paws; his partner is MPD Officer Brett Musich.

Kash’s lighter coloring includes a black coat, face and paws mottled with caramel brown. The Belgian Malinois-German shepherd cross has been serving Moorhead since 2019.

Each toy is outfitted in a replica ofhuman officers’ ballistic vests with its name emblazoned on the back.

Kash has lived with Johnson’s family since he arrived from a kennel in Slovakia as a 15-month-old pup. Among his housemates are Johnson’s wife and 3-year-old son Brooks, along with their two previous pets, another shepherd and a black Lab. The sometimes-fierce working K-9 gets along fine with the elder dogs and his human brother. “He’s a lover,” Johnson reports, “but he works hard when he’s called on.”

Both of the department’s K-9s are what’s called “dual-purpose dogs.” During their intense 9-week training courses at the side of their MPD handlers, they’re trained both to sniff out narcotics and to search for suspects through tracking, building searches and outdoor pursuits.

Johnson explains that the latter part of their duties is unlike the TV portrayal of holding a piece of clothing under a dog’s nose to establish who they’re hunting: “Dogs can smell the particular odor of fear. Adrenaline falls off someone who’s running and settles on the ground. We can’t do it, but these dogs can differentiate smells between people.” They’re also trained to spot tell-tale signs like crushed grass and vegetation.

Johnson has been with the MPD since 2014. “This is the best position I’ve had since I joined the force,” he says. “Our dogs are way smarter than we are. Their skills are just phenomenal.”

He got his start with the K-9 program, he says, “as a chew toy. I started working with our previous dog in 2015 during training exercises.” Heavily protected by padded gear, the “chew toy” helps with teaching the beasts to bite and hold, rather than tear, rip and drag their targets.

The dogs respond to both hand gestures and key verbal commands like “seek dope.” Though Kash spent his first 15 months in Slovakia, he — like Zeke — understands English. Both bred for the tasks they perform, the two intelligent canines also “read” what’s going on around them. When their harnesses come out, they know they’ll be on the hunt.

About half of the 500 stuffed toys received by PAL earlier this month have already been sold — a testament to Kash and Zeke’s high profiles and popularity, Johnson notes.

Proceeds from their sale is earmarked for the volunteer league’s projects to connect with at-risk and disadvantaged youth, as well as all of Moorhead’s teens. The goal, according to PAL’s website, is to build good citizens and foster positive relationships. Among PAL’s programs are the annual Cops and Kids hockey game, Bikes for Kids and taking in Fargo Force hockey and Redhawks baseball. Its director is Officer Scott Kostohryz. For more information on participating or signing up as a volunteer, contact him at

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