K-9 team sniffs out trouble
By PATRICIO G. BALONA
DELAND -- There are two kinds of police dog officers: those who have been bitten and those who will be bitten.
By the numbers
900 - 1,100 - Pounds of pressure per square inch in a dog's bite. Pressure is greater if dog latches on while running
18 - Number of police dogs in the Volusia County Sheriff's Office, including Labradors, German Sshepherds and Belgian MalanoisMalinois. There are 10 full- service dogs (track, sniff for drugs and bite); 4 four drug dogs and 4 four bomb dogs. Their nNames are Ben, Britt, Brund, Canan, Ciro, Darko, Dasty, Dino, Egon, Gento, Ike, Irk, Macho, Mike, Nero, Sonny, Strella and Yoshi
400 - Hours of training required to certify a dog as full-service
240 - Hours to certify drug-sniffing dogs
160 - 240 - Hours to certify bomb-sniffing dogs
$7,500 - $12,000 - to fully train a police dog.
SOURCE: News-Journal research
So say deputies of the Volusia County Sheriff's Office K-9 Unit, all of whom have been accidentally bitten by their dogs during training.
Scars dot deputies' arms or bodies. Fingers have been cut open, and others have had their toes torn through their boots.
"Inevitably, during training they get bit," said sheriff's Sgt. Jim Whittet, supervisor of the K-9 Unit. "But it is what officially brings them into the unit, makes them a part of the family."
The bite mishaps also help the dogs and handlers know each other better, Whittet said.
That was evident on a patrol last week when a quiet evening was interrupted by a radio dispatch call. Ciro, a 97-pound, 5-year-old German shepherd, got restless as Deputy Everett Robinett picked up his microphone. Ciro barked once as if acknowledging the call and put his nose through openings in the partition in the patrol car and whined as if to ask, "Is it work time?"
"That's right big boy, it is time to get to business," Robinett reassured his partner, heading to a traffic stop to sniff for drugs.
At the scene, Ciro sweeps the car, his nose all over the vehicle before suddenly sitting down, his form silhouetted on the left rear door by the flashing lights of several police vehicles. His job was done. He had found the drugs.
At an early morning sweep of the county jail, a team of eager police dogs yelps, dragging the handlers into the prison building, waking up inmates.
"That's what they live for. They love their work and would give their lives for it," said Deputy Kevin Moss, as his dog, Gento, 5, , wakes inmates. Next door, a yellow Labrador named Mike, 2, takes his sitting position under the stairs. Jail guards find a plastic baggie with residue buried inside a 100-piece puzzle tucked under the stairs.
The K-9 unit is difficult to join, said Robinett, a 17-year police dog officer. Vacancies only come up when someone retires or when the county provides funds for an additional K-9 officer, Robinett said. There are 18 K-9 units with the Volusia County Sheriff's Office and four in the Flagler County Sheriff's Office. Several area police departments have their own K-9 units.
There is a brotherhood among these officers with dog hair on their face and uniforms. They sip sodas and chew on smoked venison or chocolate chip cookies at the training field on State Road 44 west of DeLand. When asked about the dog bites, they laugh and say it's just part of the job.
"I have been bitten a bunch of times, about 12 times," said Deltona K-9 Deputy Tom Reinhardt, who was bitten for the 13th time in the buttocks last week.
"And there will be many more to come," he said with a laugh.
"Getting bit is part of the deal," Deputy Adam Clausen said.
Clausen fainted when Robinett's dog, Ciro, bit him in the fingers and his fellow dog handlers tease him with a picture of him sprawled against a chain-link fence.
Like the deputies, the dogs also are scarred. Criminals and suspects have choked, punched, kicked and hit them with objects. And the criminals also carry memories of their encounters with police dogs.
"There was this guy who ran out the back door in his underwear when officers served a warrant. I shouted at him six times that I would release the dog if he did not stop," Robinett said.
The suspect decided to fight the dog by rolling, then was bitten on both legs. When he tried to grab the dog, it bit his hand, Robinett said.
"After he was patched up at a hospital, he asked for my dog's name," Robinett said. "I said, 'Why in the world would you want my dog's name?' He said he wanted to tattoo it on his body so he would not forget Ciro."
Being a K-9 officer is not easy work.
Officers trudge through swamps and woods, Deputy Jeff Harting said. They undergo obstacle training with weights so they'll be able to pick up their dogs and put them over walls or fences while chasing criminals, he said.
"Some dogs weigh close to 100 pounds," Harting said. "You often find yourself alone because deputies can't keep up with the dog's pace."
After work, they take the dog home. If it gets sick, they rush it to a veterinarian.
"It's a job you have to love," Moss said.
"He burps, he's got bad breath and he (passes gas). He is my four-legged kid," Clausen added.
The hardest thing for the officers is seeing their dogs slow down with age and forced into retirement. Because many officers keep their retired dogs even after they are assigned new dogs, they can see the retirees become depressed after the new dogs take their place.
"It just breaks my heart. As soon as you grab your gear, he is there waiting to get in the patrol car with you," Harting said.
Deputy Hal Lee watched his retired dog sleep himself to death. He would nudge the 10-year-old Uris every day to make sure he was alive. One day he did not move.
Now a headstone, donated by Lankford Funeral Homes & Crematory and Prestige Monument of DeLand, will be laid over Uris' grave in a small K-9 cemetery where 12 other dogs are buried near the field where they trained.
"They are a good bunch of guys," said Whittet of the officers. "They love their dogs as much as they love their families."
Did you know?
Â· After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the American Kennel Club and a group called "Dogs for Defense" asked dog owners to donate quality animals to the U.S. Army Quartermaster Corps for use in combat. The War Dog program became commonly known as the K-9 Corps, a phonetic alternative to the equally unofficial "Canine Corps."
Â· Although most police dogs are large breeds, such as German shepherds, the Geauga County (Ohio) sheriff recently began training a 6-pound Chihuahua named Midge in drug-sniffing.
â€” Compiled by News Researcher Peggy Ellis
SOURCES: militaryworkingdog.com, News-Journal archives