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Sgt. Mark Tappan and Mattis enjoy the adoration at Mattis’s retirement ceremony last March in Alpharetta, Georgia. Photo courtesy David Garcia.

Mattis is one of five 2021 AKC Awards for Canine Excellence recipients, winning the Uniformed Service K-9 category. This category recognizes certified therapy dogs working in hospitals, schools, disaster sites, war zones, and wherever else the affection of a good dog can provide comfort.

Mattis and Sgt. Mark Tappan check every box when it comes to successful police work.

For instance, the 8-year-old German Shepherd Dog has more than $3 million in drug seizures, 20 successful tracks, and over 200 arrests in his career on the Alpharetta, Georgia, Police Department. (Alpharetta is a town of 67,213 population (2019 estimation) and 26 miles north of downtown Atlanta.)

While Tappan beams when these numbers are cited, his pride is a step higher when citing Mattis’s social-media platforms and interaction with the townspeople.

“He is the face of law enforcement here,” Tappan smiles, “and has built a bridge between the public and the department. If you have a dog, people who might not ordinarily approach you will do so. They want to know more about Mattis and my relationship with him.”

The challenging climate of the public’s hot and cold emotions runs a huge gamut. “Dealing with people is both challenging and can be highly opportunistic,” he adds. “We can change a life by our response, whether our actions are compassionate or jaded. In these challenging and unpredictable situations, Mattis is at his best, helping bring a calmness.”

As a result, the two have been named winners of the 2021 AKC Humane Fund Awards for Canine Excellence in the Uniformed Service K-9 category.

Bravery and Intelligence

Yes, there is a story behind this GSD’s name.

He was 2-year-old Caymen when selected by Tappan in 2015. “That was just too close phonetically to my son Cayden’s name. Being a former Marine, I thought the name Mattis after retired Gen. James ‘Mad Dog’ Mattis seemed to fit well. He is known for being incredibly intelligent, well respected and a fierce warrior.” Mattis, a four-star general, was also a former Secretary of Defense.

From the get-go, Tappan faced a wide array of dynamics with Mattis. “His drive was incredible. The way he wanted to chase and hunt a toy was his singular focus when I tested him. He was persistent in his drive and had an ability to solve problems other dogs did not, whether using his brute strength or wit.”

But his zest and enthusiasm for his job have come with a cost. He was injured in 2016 after leaping over a 30-foot retention wall while chasing two suspects who were attempting to flee from a traffic stop.  The incident later earned him a Purple Heart medal from the police department for his bravery. “I thought the wall was only 10 feet high and when I saw my best friend injured on the ground, I could not forgive myself.”

Mattis was rushed to a nearby veterinary hospital for emergency surgery for a lacerated liver and major internal bleeding. Both suspects were later arrested and found to be in possession of a backpack full of cell phones, credit cards, and IDs.

Then there was the time with his quick and fearless actions, he saved a suspect who was attempting “suicide by cop.” It was quickly revealed afterward the individual had no weapon.

On another occasion, he ran off-leash with Tappan through a train station parking lot pursuing an armed carjacker, pulling him down in the presence of bystanders. This was following a vehicle pursuit and crash.

Tappan and his German Shepherd partner, Mattis, pose for a photo on the media tour for “America’s Top Dog” television show.

Making a Difference

While Mattis’s exploits on the job have drawn raves and his demonstrations in public have attracted awes, he has raised more than $200,000 for charitable causes.

“For me, social media is all about making an impact, making a difference,” says Tappan. “Cure Childhood Cancer has been our focus. It’s one of those organizations where you simply can’t say no to help.”

Coins4CURE has been the M (Mark) & M (Mattis) pair’s chief focus. “We challenged K9 units nationwide to create their own Coins4Cure fund-raising drives as well. We’ve also been donating 50 percent of our popular Mattis merchandise sales to CURE.

“These kids are in a fight for their life every day and for years in some cases. They are the real heroes. And they need hope every day to continue that fight.

“Their families are alongside fighting that life battle with them. To be a part of something like that is special, and to play a very minuscule role like we do, it means a lot to us.”

Mattis’s celebrity status reaches far beyond Alpharetta. The pair have been featured on A&E’s “America’s Top Dog,” and made appearances on “Entertainment Tonight,” “Good Morning America,” “Fox & Friends, “Live PD” and “True Crime.” Mattis also made his acting debut in the HBO series, “Watchmen.”

In addition, Mattis has 237,000 followers on Instagram and 4.3 million on TikTok.

Life in Retirement

Last March the team was broken up when Mattis was retired in a public ceremony.

“I miss him every day when I get ready for work,” Tappan notes. “He is the only dog of the three we have at home that comes downstairs with me and stands by his harness in hopes I will place it on him. As I walk out he lays his head on my left thigh for one last pet and is always by the door when I return home. I admit it, it’s left a void in my life.

“During the day, I miss his head on my right shoulder as I would scratch it. I pass locations and think that would be a great place to play or train.”

The decision to retire Mattis came from Tappan, who noticed his partner had a limp in his rear right leg. It was diagnosed as Gastrocenemia Fibrosis, a hind limb lameness. Affected dogs typically experience life-long disability, as the thigh muscle fibrosis and contracture is not reversible with treatment.

To maintain Mattis’s mental and physical skills, Tappan stimulates him with odor games. One of those is “find the food,” where his dinner is hidden and he is forced to use his nose to find it.

As Mattis makes the transition from working K9 to family pet, maintaining his sharpness and exercise falls on the others – Tappan’s wife, Tamara, and their three children, Makenna, 17; Cayden, 15; and Harper, 7.

“They’ve been great,” Tappan concludes. “It’s all about family and every one of them recognizes the need to keep Mattis happy and stimulated. He’s certainly earned that right, hasn’t he?”

Related article: Therapy Dog Teddy Awarded for Extraordinary Sense of Empathy
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