A friend posed a question the other day: “Do the police still use K-9 dogs?”
Absolutely. K-9 duty is one of the more interesting assignments for an officer. It is not for everyone, obviously, because not all folks are “dog people.” And, since we do not have police cats, the field narrows to those who are “dog people.” Makes sense.
K-9s are truly wonderful and smart creatures. Many are credited with saving police officers’ lives.
A K-9 and a human handler go through training together for several months, developing the skills of the trade. The development of a bond between the two partners is important. If they don’t have that bond, the dog’s performance will fall below potential, meaning they may miss, or misinterpret a smell or other piece of evidence they had trained to recover.
The most popular breed that I have seen for K-9s is the Belgian Malinois, a very athletic and lean animal. Many of these dogs are imported from companies in Holland, meaning the handlers bark commands in Dutch so that no one but the dog knows what the blazes the officer is yelling. Confusion goes a long way in hastening the quick surrender of a suspect.
I saw one dog pushed up an attic stair to retrieve a burglar hiding behind a piece of plywood, which he did without either suffering a scratch. The same dog, weeks later, entered the bathroom of a fast-food restaurant to retrieve the knucklehead who robbed the bank next door. “I always use the same line,” one handler told me. “I give them one warning, and then I am sending the dog in. Almost all the time, they come running out.”
One handler told me the life of the K-9 is much like his. The dog acts like a family dog — much like two other dogs in the house, including one that is a retired police dog – but the K-9 has a required pen and doghouse outside. The K-9 interacts with the kids and other dogs and is very much a part of the family until the handler puts on his uniform. Then, the dog knows it is time to go to work. His demeanor changes and he becomes a working police dog.
Comfort wise, K-9 partners need larger vehicles. Most use SUVs with a compartment cooled by a separate AC system, complete with sensors to alert the human officer to remotely open the door as a safety measure when the temperature reaches a certain level. Some officers have a remote on their duty belts that opens vehicle doors. I imagine that if the car doors burst open, the dog knows to look for the handler and find out what is going on. You do not want to be the guy fighting an officer when his K-9 shows up.
Like anything else, Murphy’s Law exists in police work. One officer found this out one hot afternoon when he went after a burglar who had broken into a home and absconded into the woods.
A K-9 unit arrived, and the dog and officer began tracking. A nearby officer, walking parallel to the K-9 and his handler, unfortunately stepped on a nest of yellow jackets, which set in motion a series of unfortunate events.
First, the yellow jacket in charge signaled the others and they attacked the officer full force, penetrating beneath his Kevlar vest and stinging the poor guy at will.
Now violently thrashing about while being stung time after time, the officer did everything possible to rid his vest of the yellow jackets that were busy stinging him inside his vest. Unfortunately, he inadvertently stumbled into the path of the K-9 handler, whose K-9 partner misinterpreted the action as an attack and responded appropriately.
It was not pretty.
An hour later, the officer sat on an emergency room bed with numerous red yellow-jacket stings and, courtesy of the K-9, a punctured arm. He was surrounded by fellow officers trying desperately to look concerned rather than amused.
One needs thick skin in this business—literally and figuratively.