TAMPA BAY, Fla. — There’s a joke among law enforcement across the Tampa Bay area: If you’re standing by a group of canine unit officers, yell “Dobies” and all their dogs will come running.
It’s a joke based in truth.
During the last decade, Thomas Dobies, 62 and a Tarpon Springs native, has donated around $120,000 worth of police dogs — many of whom bear his name — to a number of Tampa Bay police departments and sheriff’s offices that otherwise might not have been able to afford them.
That’s a dozen dogs at $10,000 or more per pup. And it’s just one example of why Dobies, owner of half a dozen funeral homes in eastern Pasco and Pinellas counties, has come to be known as a sort of law enforcement Santa Claus.
“Tom is genuinely that one person whose generosity resembles what God would want us to be like on earth,” said Pasco County Sheriff Chris Nocco. “That’s Tom Dobies.”
Backstory: Funeral director says goodbye to dog that changed his life (Aug. 14, 2012)
Whether it’s $3,000 to help one sheriff’s corporal with cancer or $2,000 for another whose father-in-law died in the line of duty in Michigan, Dobies has been there for the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office, Nocco said. He recently donated two stand-up patrol scooters to New Port Richey police, at a cost of about $10,000 each.
Earlier this month, Dobies was honored by the Tampa Bay Area Chiefs of Police as law enforcement business partner of the year, an award the chiefs who nominated him say is overdue.
“I love supporting local police,” the soft-spoken Dobies said. “I’ve given departments workout rooms. I’ve bought golf carts for fire departments to help them transport someone out of a crowd.”
And then there are the canine units.
“The costs for purchasing high-quality dogs can be overwhelming for a police department that has limited resources already,” said David Ferland, executive director of the U.S. Police Canine Association. “So people donating monies for police to be able to buy these high-quality dogs is necessary across the country.”
Ferland, a former police chief in New Hampshire, said if a department has a limited budget, money is likely to go toward officers rather than dogs.
Without Dobies’ doggy donations, a number of missing children and older people might never been found, thousands of dollars in drugs might have gone undiscovered, a Waffle House robber stood to make off with his take — and another robber may have gotten away with murder.
Last month, New Port Richey Cpl. Justin Case’s canine partner — one of the Dobies — died a few years after retiring from the police department.
Case recalled the night in 2012 when he and his canine partner were asked by Pasco deputies to help find a robber who used a sawed-off shotgun to kill a 7-11 clerk and his partner.
The dog found the clothes the two robbers had worn, along with the weapon, the stolen merchandise and the suspects, one of whom was hiding in a dirt alleyway, Case said.
Both were sentenced to life in prison.
“If not for Mr. Dobies’ generosity and support to law enforcement, those two truly bad individuals may not have had their day and court,” Case said. “The family and friends of the victim may have not been able to see justice served.”
Dobies said he’s given two dogs to the Pasco Sheriff’s Office, one to the Hernando Sheriff’s Office, four to Tarpon Springs police, four to New Port Richey police and one to Port Richey police.
He calls the dogs his children and when he sees officers or deputies with a dog, he often asks, “Is that one of my kids?”
He offers to cremate or hold funerals for any of any of the police dogs, free of charge.
“You see these grown men, police officers, who are tough, rough — and then you see them when their dogs die,” Dobies said.
They sob; they’re humbled by the dog’s love and bravery.
Dobies admits he wasn’t always an animal lover. A stray who forced herself into his life brought out that side out of him. At the, she was scrawny, black and nameless. She showed up at his funeral home in Holiday seeking refuge under a carport from a storm. After she licked his hand that day in 2008, Dobies took her home, gave her a bath and named her Lucy.
Soon, her face was on a billboard as she became the funeral home’s grief therapy dog. She died in 2012 but not before changing her owner’s life.
Dobies, who now lives New Port Richey, started carrying treats in his car to lure strays so he could help find them homes. He has donated thousands of dollars to the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and the Humane Society.
His reputation in local law enforcement circles grew as he paid the cost of more and more K-9 dogs, many of them flown over from Germany.
His system is simple: He asks law enforcement what they need.
“I try to avoid having conversations with him, because he’ll offer to pay for something,” quipped New Port Richey Police Chief Kim Bogart.
Dobies is less than excited about the award.
“I don’t like stuff like that,” he said with a chuckle.
Not because he doesn’t appreciate the thanks, but he doesn’t want the attention. As a child, he said, he mowed lawns and gave the money to his mom for groceries. Generosity is in his blood.
“It’s not about the dollars,” he said. “It’s about the community.”