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Police dog killed in shootout honored with open casket funeral at Gillette Stadium

Uniformed officers took part in a Public Safety Walk-by and Salute during K-9 Kitt's memorial service at Gillette Stadium on Tuesday.  K-9 Kitt was assigned to K-9 Officer William Cushing Jr., and was killed during a domestic violence call that Cushing and Kitt had responded to.
Uniformed officers took part in a Public Safety Walk-by and Salute during K-9 Kitt's memorial service at Gillette Stadium on Tuesday. K-9 Kitt was assigned to K-9 Officer William Cushing Jr., and was killed during a domestic violence call that Cushing and Kitt had responded to.Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff

BRAINTREE — Kitt, the police dog killed in an exchange of gunfire outside the Braintree Village apartment complex earlier this month, was laid to rest with full honors Tuesday while his partner of 11 years continues to recover from his injuries.

A cavalcade of officers from Ashland, Canton, Brockton, Randolph, and Quincy, along with State Police, escorted Kitt’s casket to Gillette Stadium for the dog’s 11 a.m. funeral service.

Sean Conroy and Matt Kielty sat outside the restaurant they own, a few blocks from the Cartwright-Venuti Funeral Home, to watch the procession roll by.

Conroy, 44, said he grew up with Kitt’s handler, Officer William Cushing Jr. Kitt, undoubtedly, was the “best K-9 dog around,” he said.

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“They’re more than cops,” Kielty said of Cushing and fellow Officer Matthew Donoghue, who was also injured in the June 4 shooting. Donoghue was released from Boston Medical Center on June 5.

Kielty said it was emotional to see the procession come by, and to see the town turn out to support Kitt.

“If it wasn’t for that dog, the cops could’ve been hit,” he said. “He probably saved a life.”

Another onlooker, 53-year-old Karen Pettingell, said she attended to show support for the town’s police force.

“He’s just a hero,” she said of Kitt, through tears. “He did a lot for the city.”

Many in the crowd wore T-shirts or tank tops honoring Kitt: “Thank you for your service.” One woman waved an American flag, while another carried a “thin blue line” flag.

Charlie Dias, whose father is a Braintree police officer, was among those watching the procession. The young child carried a sign that said, “Sorry Kitt you were great to us.” The dog’s name was in big lettering with a heart beneath it.

She said she came to honor Kitt’s effort to keep the community safe.

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“I made this poster for Kitt because I support Kitt and how he protected us,” she said. “Kitt is a big hero because he saved the cop’s lives.”

Jackie O’Connor, who accompanied Dias to the procession, said she had chills watching it.

“This was great for the community to be able to come together and support our town and just . . . show support that we’re all together . . . with this tragedy and that hopefully the families know that we’re here for them and supporting them,” she said.

When the funeral procession arrived at the stadium, uniformed pallbearers carried Kitt’s flag-draped coffin onto the field for the open-casket ceremony.

Kitt lay draped in an American flag. Officers filed by, some pausing to salute.

Across the country, law enforcement agencies give K-9 officers the same funeral rites bestowed on their human counterparts.

“I think there’s always been this tradition to give a K-9 an honors funeral if they die in the line of duty,” said Brian Higgins, professor at John Jay College of Justice and former chief of the Bergen County Police Department in New Jersey.

“It may include some of the pomp and circumstance, but I don’t think it’s ever at the same level as a police officer,” Higgins said.

Cartwright Funeral Home donated the services it performed for Kitt’s farewell, including a coffin and hosting his remains in a chapel at its Braintree facility, where officers watched over him nonstop for about two weeks so he would never be alone, said Timothy Cohoon, Braintree’s deputy police chief of operations.

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“The Braintree police could not thank them enough,” said Cohoon, who is also the executive director of the nonprofit Braintree Police Working Dog Foundation.

After the funeral, Kitt was cremated during a private gathering at Angel View Pet Cemetery & Crematory in Middleborough, said Cohoon, a former canine handler.

Cohoon said he didn’t have a final tally for all the funeral costs, but expected donations would cover most of the expenses.

“We’ll have some incidental costs,” he said.

The nonprofit Braintree Police Working Dog Foundation launched a fund-raiser on GoFundMe after Kitt’s death asking people to donate to the organization in the dog’s memory.

The foundation helps pay for Braintree police’s K-9 unit, according to its Facebook page. As of Tuesday afternoon, nearly $25,000 had been donated to the GoFundMe campaign.

In 2019, the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office spent $33,653 on funeral services for Cigo, a 3-year-old German shepherd who was killed during a shootout, according to the Palm Beach Post. Private donations covered about 82 percent of the costs for the funeral, which included a 21-gun salute and flyover, the newspaper reported.

The same year, a police funeral with full honors was organized to commemorate the life of K-9 Leo, a member of the Passaic County Sheriff’s Office in New Jersey, who died of a stomach condition, according to the New Jersey Record.

The funeral cost about $1,000, a spokesman for the sheriff’s office said at the time.

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Full police funerals for fallen K-9 officers have become so common that the National Sheriff’s Association has published online burial protocols to guide agencies through the decisions — burial or cremation, public or private ceremony, Taps or a 21-gun salute?

Most decisions regarding funerals for K-9 officers are made agency by agency, except when it comes to 21-gun salutes. Those are solely reserved for police dogs killed in the line of duty, according to the sheriffs’ guidelines.

Pallbearers and honor guards, however, are customary at K-9 funerals, according to the protocols.

Braintree’s police chaplain, the Rev. Paul Clifford, presided over Kitt’s service, praising the animal’s loyalty and “sacrificial loss.”

“Kitt knew one thing, and one thing only on June 4, 2021,” Clifford said. “There was a threat on the loose, a threat to his handler, and the people of Braintree.”

Kitt “answered the call,” Clifford said, according to a stream of the funeral on WBZ-TV. “It cost him his life . . . and all of us who love the light of peace of our hearts.

Police said Kitt and Cushing worked side-by-side for 11 years, and the K-9 died “valiantly giving his life for the lives of his fellow officers.”

In 2016 Kitt was awarded the Braintree Police Medal of Valor for protecting several officers during an armed confrontation, and in 2020 he and Cushing found a suspect wanted for a shooting at the South Shore Plaza that resulted in serious injuries and a lockdown of the property.

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The man who killed Kitt, identified as 34-year-old Andrew Homen of Brockton, was pronounced dead at Milton Hospital following the shooting.

Homen allegedly fired repeatedly at the officers until Kitt charged him, police said.

Norfolk District Attorney Michael Morrissey’s office is investigating the fatal encounter.

Officers saluted the processional as the pall bearers carried K-9 Kitt's casket into Gillette Stadium.
Officers saluted the processional as the pall bearers carried K-9 Kitt's casket into Gillette Stadium.Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff

Braintree Deputy Chief Timothy Cohoon (left) presented the flag to K-9 Officer William Cushing Jr. during a memorial service at Gillette Stadium to honor K-9 Kitt.
Braintree Deputy Chief Timothy Cohoon (left) presented the flag to K-9 Officer William Cushing Jr. during a memorial service at Gillette Stadium to honor K-9 Kitt. Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff

 Pall bearers carried K-9 Kitt's casket out of Gillette Stadium.
Pall bearers carried K-9 Kitt's casket out of Gillette Stadium.Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff
A poster on the window at the entrance to the Braintree Police Department honored Kitt.
A poster on the window at the entrance to the Braintree Police Department honored Kitt.John Tlumacki/Globe Staff

Laura Crimaldi of the Globe staff and Globe correspondent Adam Sennott contributed to this report.


Charlie McKenna can be reached at charlie.mckenna@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @charliemckenna9. Tonya Alanez can be reached at tonya.alanez@globe.com or 617-929-1579. Follow her on Twitter @talanez.