“It’s Absolutely Unbelievable”
It was a hot summer day when Albany County, Wyoming, sheriff ‘s deputy Cathy Orde received a call about a lost child. A two-year-old boy had wandered away from his parents’ trailer in the Sierra Madre range. He had been gone for hours, and even with the help of police officers and other volunteers, not a single clue had been found. Because Orde had a seven-year-old golden retriever, Moose, who was good at tracking lost people, local police requested that she and Moose come as quickly as possible.
“I Was Practically Airborne”
When she arrived, the distraught parents gave her an article of the child’s clothing so Moose would know the scent he would be tracking. Orde asked for support from a searcher who was in good physical shape to accompany her as she worked Moose. After circling the trailer Moose found a fresh scent and, nose to the ground, led Orde and the support searcher downhill through the forest.
Orde later recalled that the searcher was skeptical about Moose’s chances of finding the boy. “[He] kept saying, ‘A two-year-old won’t go downhill, and they won’t go this far!'” But as they went on behind the dog, Orde began to spot some very small footprints in the pine needles. Then Moose began running, and Orde quickly unhooked the lead. “I was practically airborne,” she remembers.
Just before she and the searcher came to an area of tall brush into which Moose had disappeared, the dog came running back to her with a little baseball cap in his mouth. Orde gave the command “show me,” and the dog led her to the boy. “I made sure he was okay,” she said, “picked him up in my arms, and hugged him. I told him I was taking him back to his mommy.
. . . As I carried the little boy out of the forest, Moose stayed close by us, bouncing up and down.”
It had taken Moose a total of thirty-five minutes to find the boy, who had walked over a mile (1.6km) from his home.
In another case Philadelphia police got a call that gunshots had just been fired in the city’s twenty-fifth police district. When officers arrived they saw three young men running through a field and heard a gunshot. The officers then chased the man who had fired the gun. They caught him, but although he had a single .38 caliber round in his pocket, he had evidently thrown the gun away to avoid being arrested. Without a gun it would be impossible to prove his guilt.
After searching for forty-five minutes in the dark and finding no sign of the gun, police called for Officer John Callahan and his dog Justice to help recover the weapon. It took them five minutes from the time they arrived on the scene for Justice to show Callahan that he had found the weapon-a powerful .357 Magnum-with one spent shell. With DNA and fingerprint analysis of the weapon, it would be possible to tie the suspect to it.
“That’s Exactly What We Want”
Almost 1,000 miles (1,609km) away from Philadelphia, St.Paul police officer Mike Ernster received a radio message from dispatch. Witnesses had seen a man fire a gun from a white Ford Expedition SUV, and the vehicle was heading Ernster’s way. Within a few minutes Ernster spotted the car and signaled with his lights for the driver to pull over.
Ernster knew very well that this was a difficult situation. Someone in the car had already pulled the trigger of a gun, and the officer had no way of knowing whether he would be the next target. Getting out of his car, he grabbed a long leather lead and snapped it on the collar of his police dog, Buzz, who was sitting in the back of the squad car.
The situation defused almost as quickly as it began. Ernster stood back by his car, holding Buzz’s lead while shouting for the driver to get out with his hands up. Buzz was straining against the lead and barking loudly, hoping to be released, but Ernster held him tight. With a nervous look toward the dog, the driver obeyed and walked backward toward the police car with his hands up. Within a few seconds another squad car arrived, and the officer helped arrest each of the men in the SUV.
Though Buzz did not apprehend the suspect, both Ernster and the other officer knew that the dog’s role was huge. Without Buzz it might easily have been a much different situation.
“That’s exactly what we want,” said Ernster. “[Suspects] do not want to run, to fight, or to cause any problems because the dog is there. The dog is a deterrent.”
The Coolest Thing
Cases like these happen every day. A felon flees from police, someone becomes lost in a remote area, and criminals try to smuggle dangerous drugs across the border into the United States. And in these and dozens of other situations, police and other law enforcement agencies are turning to K-9 teams. (K-9is short for canine, another word for dog.) As of 2008 more than eighteen hundred K-9 teams were being used to track and apprehend criminals, sniff out illegal materials, search buildings, locate the bodies of victims of crimes or natural disasters, and do other jobs that police cannot do as well as a dog can.
The working relationship that develops between the dog and its partner-through intensive training and lots of experience-can yield impressive results in terms of fighting crime. K-9 work is not random, but rather works on systems that are constantly being evaluated, tested, and revised by trainers. At its core, however, successful K-9 work relies on trust and communication between the dog and handler. And when it works, admits St.Paul K-9 Officer Harrison.