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It’s not often that a dog catcher is described as “a dog’s best friend.”

But David R. Horn was the kind of dog catcher who would take home a stray pup that couldn’t find a home, return the mischievous ones to their owners and delight in teaching children how to take care of pets.

So it came with shock and sadness to the people of Lancaster that the town dog catcher died on the job.

Horn, 63, was found collapsed at his desk in the town animal shelter Jan. 7. He had come to check on the animals in the middle of the blizzard.

“St. Francis can take a coffee break now, because Dave Horn is on duty now,” said Penny Prestia, an assistant dog-control officer whom Horn trained eight years ago on the job and who worked with him daily. “He was not just lip service; he was the real deal.”

It was Horn’s deep passion for dogs – and making sure they had the best of care – that is so big a part of his Lancaster legacy.

In his nearly two decades as Lancaster’s dog-control officer, Horn’s love for animals was unparalleled. He was known for once walking a woodchuck by leash out of a resident’s yard.

Horn came to adopt a few dogs that were homeless as his own. First, there was Dozer, a female pit bull terrier known to accompany him all over town. Later, there was Willow, another female pit bull who became part of his team and still lives at the town kennels.

On routine patrols, Dozer, now deceased, or Willow would jump into Horn’s vehicle. On hot days, they were regulars at McDonald’s, where they savored ice cream treats.

Willow was found circling Como Park, shortly after giving birth to a litter of pups and presumably looking for them, when Horn and Prestia found her.

“Nobody claimed her. We were going to put her up for adoption,” Prestia said.

In the end, Horn kept her.

“She’s like our mascot,” Prestia said. “He would take her home, and out for rides on the weekends, and get her treats. She went all over.”

Many co-workers knew how dedicated Horn was to making sure the dogs he caught were comfortable and received attention.

“He was very passionate about animals and an overall great guy,” said Lancaster Police Officer James R. Muench Jr., who first worked with Horn for about six years as an assistant dog-control officer before joining the police force.

Police dispatcher Carolanne Kerl distinctly remembers Horn parking in front of the police station, with Dozer sitting in the passenger seat.

“He cared so much for all the animals. I know he was the best dog warden we ever had,” Kerl said. “Any time that truck moved, Dozer was in the front seat. It was hilarious. He’d said that she was such a sweetheart that he kept her. She was the assistant dog warden in Lancaster.”

A 2003 Christmas card from Horn, featuring Dozer wearing reindeer antlers, is still displayed at the station.

For years, Horn used to take not only Dozer home, but also other dogs to let them play for a bit and give them socialization, said Terrence D. McCracken, the town crew chief for parks, recreation and forestry. “He just loved animals.”

Residents Ronald and Michelle Zglinicki know just how good Horn was to their late dogs, Bubba, a Komondor, and Camille, a Doberman pinscher, who both had a history of wandering.

Horn returned Zglinicki’s dogs countless times over 12 years. The two were known for wandering into nearby woods and on trails – at times ending up on Harris Hill Road and Genesee Street.

“He’d come and laugh, knock on the door, and say, ‘I got them’ and have them in the truck,” Ronald Zglinicki said.

Horn was more than willing to share his knowledge about dog safety and pet care with children. He often visited about 85 second- and third-graders who participate in an after-school club at Court Street Elementary School to teach them about dogs. The children would collect donations, such as blankets and toys, for the town animal shelter.

“Dave was always so accountable and spent the time with our students,” said Karen A. Schanne, a social worker employed by the town Youth Bureau. “You could see his dedication to his job, and sincerity.”

Even though Horn is now gone, the children, she said, will continue to gather items to donate to the town’s kennels.

email: krobinson@buffnews.com