A friend asked a question the other day, “Do the police still use K-9 dogs?”
Absolutely. K-9 duty is one of the most interesting assignments for an officer. It’s not for everyone, of course, because not everyone is a “dog”. And since we have no police cats, the field narrows to those who are “dog people”. Logic.
K-9s are truly wonderful and intelligent creatures. Many are credited with saving the lives of police officers.
A K-9 and a human manipulator train together for several months, developing the skills of the trade. Developing a bond between the two partners is important. If they don’t have this link, the dog’s performance will fall below its potential, which means it may miss or misinterpret a scent or other piece of evidence that it had trained to retrieve.
The most popular breed I’ve seen for K-9s is the Belgian Malinois, a very athletic and lean animal. Many of these dogs are imported from Dutch companies, which means the handlers bark commands in Dutch so that no one but the dog knows what the officer is shouting. Confusion goes a long way in hastening a suspect’s quick surrender.
I saw a dog push down an attic stairway to retrieve a burglar who was hiding behind a piece of plywood, which he did without getting scratched either. The same dog, weeks later, walked into the bathroom of a fast food restaurant to retrieve the knucklehead that robbed the nearby bank. “I always use the same line,” a handler told me. “I give them a warning and then I send the dog. Almost all the time they come running out.”
A manager told me that K-9’s life is very similar to his. The dog acts like a family dog — much like two other dogs in the house, one of which is a retired police dog — but the K-9 has a mandatory outdoor enclosure and kennel. The K-9 interacts with children and other dogs and is truly part of the family until the handler puts on their uniform. Then the dog knows it’s time to go to work. His behavior changes and he becomes a working police dog.
On the comfort side, K-9 partners need larger vehicles. Most use SUVs with a compartment cooled by a separate air conditioning system, with sensors to alert the human officer to open the door remotely as a safety measure when the temperature reaches a certain level. Some officers have a remote control on their duty belt that opens the vehicle doors. I imagine that if the car doors burst open, the dog knows to look for the master and know what is going on. You don’t want to be the guy who fights an officer when his K-9 pops up.
Like anything else, Murphy’s Law exists in police work. An officer discovered him on a hot afternoon while pursuing a burglar who had broken into a house and fled into the woods.
A K-9 unit arrived, and the dog and officer began to follow. A nearby officer, walking parallel to the K-9 and his handler, unfortunately stepped on a nest of yellow vests, which set off a series of unfortunate events.
First the yellow jacket in charge waved at the others and they attacked the officer with full force, penetrating under his Kevlar vest and stabbing the poor guy at will.
Struggling violently while being repeatedly stung, the officer did everything to rid his vest of the yellow jackets that were busy stinging him inside his vest. Unfortunately, he inadvertently fell into the path of the K-9 handler, whose K-9 partner misinterpreted the action as an attack and responded appropriately.
It wasn’t pretty.
An hour later, the officer was sitting on an emergency room bed with numerous red yellow jacket bites and, thanks to the K-9, a punctured arm. He was surrounded by fellow officers trying desperately to look worried rather than amused.
You need a thick skin in this job, both literally and figuratively.