BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. -- Police sergeant Mark Tappan and his partner were in pursuit of a criminal when they were confronted by a 10-foot wall. Tappan didn't scale the wall, but his partner did and injured himself badly, though he continued the chase until a second perpetrator was caught. Then Tappan's partner collapsed.
What's surprising about the story is Tappan's partner is his police dog, Mattis.
"The bad guy jumped off a retaining wall, and I thought the retaining wall was about 10 feet high, so I started to jump as well," recalls Tappan.
"Mattis was off-leash, running next to me, and I realized that the bad guy was still falling when I started to make the jump, and I caught myself. And my heart stopped because I saw my partner, in slow motion, floating through the air downward towards the bad guy. He landed on top of the bad guy, and he wasn't on a bite-command, so he just guarded the bad guy. We were able to take that guy into custody," remembers Tappan.
"I went down and did a quick check of Mattis to see if he was OK. He didn't have any structural problems, but then we got in a foot-chase with the other bad guy who had run, and we caught up to him.
"That guy gave up as soon as he saw Mattis, which was probably pretty smart, but then Mattis collapsed. ... From the initial fall, he had sustained a lacerated liver, and I had to rush him to get emergency surgery, and they opened him up," he says, lowering his eyes.
"It was the worst words you ever want to hear as a canine handler ... I love this dog so much. And the words, I remember and I'll never forget, was they told me, 'We need to get him in the surgery right away.' And so, that's a heart-stopping moment. And they were able to get him in and patch him up. And he was back to work within a month."
That kind of devotion and training will be highlighted in A&E's new competition show "America's Top Dog," premiering Jan. 8.
Both K-9 police dogs and "civilians" will compete in a series of "Ninja Warrior"-type challenges. "They're highly trained dogs and teams," explains showrunner Holly Wofford.
"They compete on three different rounds of competition, three different obstacle courses each hour ... So five teams in each episode. Over the course of these three rounds, we lose one or two in every round. And so ultimately we have our one winner. And they're deemed our 'Top Dog.' And in our final episode we bring back the top competitors, and they're competing for the title of 'America's Top Dog,'" she says.