The room erupted in cheers and applause Wednesday night when Whitfield County Sheriff's Office Deputy Todd Thompson and his K9 partner, Eddy, outlasted the competition to emerge as the overall winners in Episode 6 — appropriately titled “Country Boys and Rescue Dogs” — of “America’s Top Dog.”

Now it’s on to the Grand Finale to face off against other weekly winners in an episode that will air on A&E in a few weeks.

Cherokee Brewing + Pizza on West Cuyler Street was packed full of well-wishers who had gathered to watch the show and show their support for Whitfield County’s crime-fighting duo.

“It was an experience of a lifetime to get to do this and to honor Lt. Fran Rice and his legacy and his family,” Thompson said. “Fran was a big part of me getting to do this (become a K9 handler). This meant a lot to me.”

Rice, a long-time lawman for the sheriff’s office, passed away last year shortly after Thompson had finished filming the show in California in June. The men were neighbors when Thompson was growing up, and Rice encouraged Thompson to pursue being a K9 handler four years ago. To honor his friend, Thompson asked Rice’s wife, Kim, if he could borrow his retirement badge and let Eddy wear it on his chest during the show.

Reflecting on Episode 6, Thompson said he’s proud of how he and his K9 partner performed in the competition and “proud of the teamwork and the bond that Eddy and I have established over our short time together.”

Thompson said the community’s support “means the world to me.”

“I’ve got so many text messages and emails and phone calls from people that I hadn’t talked to in years,” he said, “and everybody is just really supporting us and it’s just been overwhelming.”

The fact that he and Eddy did so well on the show “solidifies that I am definitely on the right track with this program,” he said. “I’m on the right track with this dog, and what a great dog we have in this county!”

Unfortunately, Eddy wasn’t able to attend the party in his honor.

“I believe it’d be a little bit too much for him,” Thompson said. “He’s at the house — he’s got free rein in the house. I woulda gave anything to have brought him tonight, but I didn’t want to take away from my family and my friends, and I didn’t want to have to worry about every move he was making or not making.”

One guest that was able to attend the party was Nick White, labeled as an “expert trainer” in his role as one of the hosts of “America’s Top Dog.” White is a U.S. Marine and former member of the Secret Service with years of experience working with K9s as well as the owner of a dog training company with locations across the country

Now residing in Destin, Florida, White said although he has been to Atlanta “a lot,” he had never visited Dalton before.

“What I see that’s different about Dalton is it has that small-town camaraderie, which I love,” he said. “It has that very ‘Cheers, everyone knows everyone’ feel to it, a family, and I love it here. I’m super glad and excited to be in Dalton, and I would love to come back. Hopefully Deputy Thompson comes back for the (Grand Finale), and I’d love to come back and see the great people of Dalton again.”

White said he “immediately loved” Thompson as soon as he met him for the show.

“I’m from a small town in Ohio,” he said, “and he gave me that small-town, super respectful, super nice, very genuine, caring country boy feel that kind of brought me back to when I was in Ohio growing up. We immediately hit it off — I loved him. I knew he was such a great guy, had such a great dog, such a great team, so when he invited me to come up here to Dalton, I was like, say no more, I’m gonna be there, and here I am.”

“America’s Top Dog” brings together top K9 cops and civilian dogs alongside their handlers as they compete nose-to-nose on the ultimate K9 obstacle course. The series is hosted by White and Curt Menefee with sideline reporting by Jamie Little.

In each one-hour episode, four police K9 teams, including fan favorites from the hit series “Live PD,” and one civilian team face off for the title of “Top Dog” in three rounds of high velocity, furry competition. The skilled teams are tested on their speed, agility and teamwork by completing a series of expert tasks on a massive obstacle course including navigating a complex maze for scented items and apprehending and taking down a suspect in a bite suit, among a variety of other challenges.

Each week’s winning team receives $10,000 and an additional $5,000 to donate to the animal charity of their choice. In the final week of competition, top competitors, including Deputy Thompson and K9 Eddy, will return to the finale course to battle for the title of “America’s Top Dog” and an additional $25,000 cash prize.

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