Angus the police horse: From COVID unemployment to Pa. PD’s newest recruit
“You can yell at me and argue with me,” Officer McDonald said, “but my horse doesn’t care what you have to say. He’s gonna keep going”
By Jack Panyard
LNP, Lancaster, Pa.
LANCASTER, Pa. — Veteran Lancaster city police Officer Scott McDonald just broke in a new rookie partner: He’s 8 years old and weighs 1,975 pounds.
Angus, a Percheron workhorse, has been patrolling the streets of downtown Lancaster with McDonald on his back for a few months. Part enforcer, part goodwill ambassador, the brawny steed is making friends and helping to keep the peace as part of the Lancaster Mounted Unit.
In some ways, McDonald said, Angus can do the work of 10 officers. His size intimidates criminals, and he can navigate crowds with ease. When he’s on the move, people make way.
“You can yell at me and argue with me,” McDonald said, “but my horse doesn’t care what you have to say. He’s gonna keep going.”
Even with all that raw power, Angus is a people horse, and part of his job is to help the department build relationships with the community. The mounted unit can make upward of 200 public appearances a year, including school visits, block parties and the National Night Out.
Despite being a little skittish around storm grates and water puddles, Angus is acclimating to his new job, and he’s a good-tempered animal.
“He’s got a great disposition,” McDonald said. “He’ll come up to you and wants the attention, but he’s not pushing his weight around. He’s not getting nosy and, like, pushing you.”
Angus is the newest and smallest of three equine officers in the Lancaster unit, which includes 10-year-olds King and Jake, who weigh 2,415 pounds and 2,140 pounds, respectively. Each horse has a designated officer, and they all live in stables at Long’s Park on Harrisburg Pike.
Angus joined the unit following the retirements of Ozzy, 24, and Liam, 23, who will live out their golden years on a farm in the southern end of the county. Liam had been with the force since 2005, and Ozzy since 2009.
Prior to joining the unit, Angus served in the tourism industry, pulling carriages across Mackinac Island in Michigan, where vehicles are not allowed.
When the COVID-19 pandemic shut down tourism, Angus lost his job and his home. He changed hands a couple of times before ending up with a family in Oley, Berks County, which is where McDonald found him.
His owner said Angus, who was accustomed to working, had become restless.
“She said, ‘I love him, but he needs a job,’ ” McDonald said. “He needs somebody that knows how to work him.”
McDonald tested his health and temperament, and how he responded to simple commands and the equipment he would wear for the job. He wanted to be sure Angus would be a good fit with the unit because a new horse is a significant long-term investment.
The mounted unit is supported by the Lancaster City Police Foundation, a nonprofit focused on safety in the city and providing police the equipment they need.
Training the new recruit
Angus had a rocky start when he arrived in the county in November 2022. Within the first two weeks of training, he had thrown McDonald off his back, separating two of the officer’s ribs.
He has since settled in.
It usually takes eight months to a year to train a horse to patrol solo in the city, McDonald said. The horses in the unit are trained for navigating common city obstacles, handling busy streets, and navigating special circumstances, such as encountering other animals, fireworks and gunfire.
“We are working against their instinct,” McDonald said. “Their instinct in the wild when they see something they don’t like is to turn and run. They’re a prey animal in the wild.”
Police train new horses by taking them out to calmer areas with other horses in the unit to expose them to things they may not be used to. Officers will set off fireworks near the horses in secluded areas, getting them used to the sound and sight. To acclimate them to gunfire, they begin by shooting an airsoft gun at a garbage can lid, slowly graduating to a paintball gun, to blanks and then to live ammunition.
Angus assists officers in handling traffic incidents, issuing citations, pursuing criminals and controlling crowds. His unit, which has been operating in the city since 1979, typically patrols between Vine and Lemon streets, covering a six-block stretch in the heart of downtown.
Lancaster’s mounted police unit is one of a handful of similar forces in Pennsylvania, including units in Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Bethlehem, York and Allegheny County.
McDonald said the Lancaster unit hopes to add another horse and officer to the team soon.
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