Karl Patrick Conley of Babylon loved working with animals -- and fighting crime.

So, in 1963, when a rash of burglaries struck East Farmingdale, the two-year veteran Suffolk police officer gave then-Commissioner John Barry a proposal that merged both interests: He asked for a dog.

That request, once granted, not only helped crack the burglary problem, it allowed Suffolk to add to its ranks a phalanx of four-legged crime-fighters called K-9 units.

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Conley, who served the police department for 28 years, retiring as a detective in the First Precinct in August 1988, died of heart failure at Good Shepherd Hospice in Port Jefferson on Monday.

He was 76.

"He loved being a police officer," said Betty Conley, referring to her husband of 56 years as "Pat," and adding, "He particularly loved the canine unit."

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In fact, Betty Conley, herself a veterinary technician, said the couple always had a dog or two in the home: Big ones, small ones, German shepherds and mutts.

Karl Conley was born on May 10, 1938, in Fort Benning, Georgia, the son of a brigadier general who himself was the son of a general. The family lived on Army bases the world over.

His mother was also an "Army brat." Indeed, the couple were married in Tiensin, China, because his mother's father -- also a general -- was stationed there.

Conley's childhood was spent moving every two years. During World War II, he lived in Silver Spring, Maryland, but he also had lived in Japan, Germany and several U.S. states.

He went to high school at La Salle Military Academy in Oakdale and then attended the University of Maryland at campuses in Stuttgart, Germany, and College Park, Maryland.

Betty Conley mused that her husband's fondness for pooches may have something do with his major in college -- animal husbandry -- and his crime-fighting stemming from his military pedigree.

The former Betty Murphy met Conley during a dance in their high school days and the couple married on Feb. 10, 1959, at St. Anne's Church in Brentwood.

Their first child, Kathy, was born in 1960. Karl Jr. and John would follow in 1961 and 1963, when the young father and new police recruit was looking for ways to help the 3-year-old Suffolk County Police Department make a dent in property crime.

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He began his tours with canine accompaniment with an untrained dog, who helped reduce burglaries. But Conley later traveled to Washington for a three-month training session and came back to Suffolk with Lucky, a fully trained canine officer whose career highlights include helping to locate missing children in the Connetquot area after an eight-hour search.

"He was a wonderful man," Betty Conley said. "He had many friends. He was very well thought of. Everyone who knew him well, loved him."

In addition to his wife, survivors are daughter Kathy Conley-Aydin of Silver Spring, Maryland; sons Karl Jr. of East Islip and John of West Babylon; brother Edgar of Winston-Salem, North Carolina; three grandchildren and two nieces.

Services will be private.

Donations may be made in Conley's honor to the Suffolk County Police K-9 Unit through the Suffolk County Police Benevolent Association or to Good Shepherd Hospice in Port Jefferson.