There are many fine working dogs out there – cattle and sheep dogs, Guide Dogs for the Blind, Special needs assistance dogs, Bomb and Drug dogs, and perhaps one of the finest working groups, the Working Police Dog, or K-9 Cops, complete with their own badge. Hired on by Police and Sheriff departments nationwide, they are largely made up of German Shephard and Belgian Malinois breeds. I have had the honor of working with these dogs for over 30 years. Both local Police Department and Sheriff’s Departments have working dogs, used on the SWAT team, for school protection, building searches, drug deals and of course, criminal apprehension.
Astor was a beautiful sable shepherd. High strung, as so many of these dogs need to be to perform their job, ever alert, he suffered from stomach issues, and his spleen would swell to enormous proportions. We had just gotten in 4 new dogs at the Police Department, and one had already been rejected for a permanent lameness in the right shoulder and returned to the seller. This was at great expense and nerve wracking for the new program. To have problems with another dog was near unbearable. I said he needed to have surgery, to biopsy the intestine and spleen. It was late in the day when his handler came down to visit him in recovery. Though the individual police departments own the dogs, it is their Peace Officer Handlers that live with the dog and develop an intense bond. These dogs – and their handlers – were new to me and I knew very little about them. I was ignorant that even off duty an officer is expected to be prepared to respond to an emergency, so when the handler bent over in post op to greet his dog, I was most startled to note a gun in his waistband! I wondered if he’d planned to shoot me if the surgery hadn’t gone well! (He said no).
Most of the dogs have German names, as many were and still are imported from Germany. Their commands are given in the German Schitzhund or obedience training language. Handlers lucky enough to be assigned a partnership with one of these dogs will spend weeks learning the cues and training required while forming a deep bond. You see, these dogs can go where a person cannot. These dogs serve as the first line of defense when things go bad. No one wants to lose a dog – but better the dog than a Peace Officer. The K-9 Cop can mark a perpetrator in a crowd and run him (or her) down. Once the fleeing person stops, they will stand still, not biting unless the person resists and provokes a bite. They can be sent into buildings with cameras on their backs to locate the offender. They can smell or hear where someone is hidden.
Castor was a Malinois from the Sheriff’s Department. He passed away naturally some years ago. A very “sharp” dog, he was a holy terror when he came into our clinic. He growled at all the staff. He was not walked during his brief stays, as we customarily do with all boarding pets. Except….Castor loved me. There was no rhyme nor reason to it. I poked him with needles, gave shots, drew blood. No problem. At first I wondered if I resembled the handler’s wife, but once I met her, blonde, petite, beautiful, sadly I knew that I did not. Whatever the reason, I was grateful. Castor had many arrests to his name, but my favorite story was the guy swimming in the canal to elude capture. His handler sent the dog, knowing if the guy made it to the far bank he might get away. The criminal decided to drown the dog. Castor took matters into his own hands, simply wrapping his jaws around the only body part he could reach – his neck. The man surrendered.
In the United States Air Force, fighter pilots are accompanied by a “Wingman”, another fighter plane which flies off the right wing and just behind the lead, whose job is primarily to protect the lead by “watching his back”. Our Canine Corps of Peace Officers serve as “Wingman” to the officers they shadow. May we be humbled by their gifts and grateful for their service.