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Patchogue to find spot for police dog memorial

Robert Fleming, 31, stands with a concrete monument

Robert Fleming, 31, stands with a concrete monument of Duke, a popular village dog that died in 1954, near the renovation site in Patchogue. (Aug. 23, 2012) Credit: Ed Betz

Duke never dogged it.

He walked beats, rode in police cars, watched traffic and manned the corner of Main Street and Ocean Avenue, according to news reports of the time. He was a cop's cop, residents recalled.

So beloved was the mongrel that the Patchogue Police Benevolent Association created a memorial in his honor, planted in the sidewalk on the northwest corner of Montauk Highway and North Ocean Avenue after his death in 1954.

There it stood until recently, when crews with East Setauket developer TRITEC removed the plaque and structures from the village's Four Corners area to make room for the $100 million Patchogue New Village development.

"He used to lay right where the stone was at. He was a loyal pet to the officers," recalled Pete Berman, 77, of the Greater Patchogue Historical Society, of the canine considered the mascot of the old village police department.

Robert Fleming, a history teacher at Eastport-South Manor Junior-Senior High School in Manorville, said he noticed the small monument was gone earlier this month during his second annual Patchogue History Crawl, an informal event in which he and nearly 20 friends talked village history while visiting local bars.

"The plaque has been there for decades," said Fleming, 31, a five-year village resident. "We thought it was thrown away by accident."

He started a public awareness campaign to locate the monument, before village officials told him it was stored in a safe place, Fleming said.

On Thursday, village and TRITEC officials pulled the small stone from storage for Fleming to see and hold.

"I feel a little closer to Duke," he said, after picking up the monument, which reads: "Just a dog, but a four legged legend on the 'four corners.' "

TRITEC has promised to put the memorial somewhere in the village once the project is complete, he said.

"As wonderful and needed as the revitalization is, you need to have a connection to the old Patchogue, a physical connection to the past," said Fleming, a self-proclaimed lover of Long Island history.

Berman said removing the plaque was a bad idea to begin with. It lessened the village's historical value, he said. "The village has a total disregard for anything historic. Every week something is being taken down. I've been here my whole life. I'm really upset."

Village patrolman Norris Gilman rescued Duke, then a puppy, from a cesspool behind a building on West Main Street, possibly in the late 1930s, and later adopted the dog, according to Fleming and news reports.

The Patchogue PBA installed the memorial in 1954, about 16 years after Duke began his service with the village department, Newsday reported in 1964.

Berman said he remembers Duke walking with Gilman on foot patrol. "He was a fixture, one of the local characters."

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