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For K-9s and handlers, an alternative lifestyle at home and on the street

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Officer Eric Alten and K-9 Officer Garp
Officer Eric Alten and K-9 Officer Garp


In the order of operations, K-9s play an indispensable role for a Police force. Be it on patrol , looking for the lost, finding contraband or detaining suspects, the four-legged furry officers are just as important as their human counterparts.

“We’re on call, 24-7,” Sgt. Jon Weiner of Ohio’s Bainbridge Township Police told the Morning Journal. “We train so hard with our dogs. They aim to please. Toys mean everything to them, and they love praise. Our police dogs make this community a much safer place.”

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Officer Jon Newcomb of Bainbridge concurs with his comrade, giving insight to the sacrifices made by the Dog-Human teams.

“You give up a lot of personal time to be a K-9 officer,” said Newcomb. “There is lots of prepping before and after work every day. I have to be very selective with kennels when I go on vacation. On my days off, I’ll take him and exercise him. I think it’s a bond that most people don’t understand. Nobody knows the ups and downs of this like another K-9 handler.”

Newcomb was issued his Slovakian-born German Shepherd -who goes by the name Roc- in 2012. Weiner’s dog Ozzie is a Belgian Malinois.

“Our dogs are from Europe,” Newcomb said. “They’re bred there for police work. Here in the United States, the dogs are bred for their looks.”

“We don’t care if they’re purple as long as they can do the work,” Weiner replied. “My first dog, Tango, worked up until the day he died. He had cancer. He was 10 years old, which is pretty old for a police dog. Just like athletes, they’re always being injured. Our vet, Andy Leeb at TLC Pet Hospital, donates all of his services and makes himself available to us 24-7. ”

Being a Belgian Malinois, Ozzie is a lot more hyper and aggressive than his German Shepherd counterpart and certainly more energetic than Tango was.

“You never know how it’s going to work,” said Weiner. “My first dog was part of the family. My new partner is so into work that he doesn’t know when to turn it off at home. Some police dogs can’t have any interaction with family so they get kenneled. It may not interact with your family well.”

Despite this, Ozzie is very protective of Weiner’s daughter. He says that his 3-year-old girl is viewed as lower in the pack hierarchy by Ozzie and therefore requires his protection.

Newcomb admits that Roc knows when to hang up the badge for the day and interact with his family.

“Roc pretty much has full run of the house,” Newcomb said with a laugh. “He even gets along great with my other dog.”

All Bainbridge PD officer who enter the K-9 Corps are sent to a Cleveland school for six weeks to learn how to work with their dogs. The dogs are trained in narcotics detection, patrol work, apprehension, controlling unruly suspects and search and rescue.

“Ninety-nine percent of the time, our dogs are used as a locating tool to find people or drugs,” Weiner said. “They also do public relations work. One of the best parts of the job is seeing special needs children respond to the dog.”

Lorain Police Officer Eric Alten considers his K-9, Garp, as a family member, partner and essential tool.

Hailing from the Czech Republic, the 6 1/2 year old German Shepherd has been working with the 32-year-old Alten for over four years.

“The dogs are an incredible tool,” Alten said. “As much as you want to call them a pet or even a family member, because I do consider him not just my partner but a family member, in the eyes of law enforcement these dogs are a partner and a tool as well.”

While Garp goes home to a pair of dogs who serve as pets, he stands out from his family members.

“(Garp’s) not a normal dog at home,” Alten said. “He will come up to me every now and then wanting to play but normally it’s not like you would see a normal house pet where they’re bringing the toy to you and nudging you. He is a very work-driven dog and I think that’s one of the things that really helps make him a good police K-9,” Alten said. “(Garp) loves going to work. He’s very routined and incredibly loyal.”

Alten understands that while Garp is a highly intelligent officer, he is still an animal and thus requires constant supervision, control and training, particularly when it comes to apprehending someone.

“A lot of times if you see a dog that has to apprehend or bite someone, it’s not that they’re trying to inflict pain in that person,” he said. “It’s almost like a game of tug of war. Most of these dogs start off with tug toys and that’s how they learn to grab, hold on and that tug of war is fun. “

Alten couldn’t imagine working with anyone else or in any other field.

“As of right now, I absolutely love being a K-9 handler, love working with my dog, couldn’t imagine replacing him right now,” he said.

K-9s usually work until 9-10 years of age, some even longer. A Mississippi Highway Patrol K-9 named Nick retired at around 13 years old.

For Alten, nothing would please him more than to work with Garp as long as possible.

 

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