April 3, 2006 in City

Police dog a different kind of hero

By The Spokesman-Review
 
Photos by Kathryn Stevens photo

Hero waits in his patrol car while his partner, Officer Kevin King, says goodbye before starting his evening shift one Wednesday afternoon.
(Full-size photo)

Background

Hero is one of five dogs that work with officers at the Spokane Police Department. The K-9 unit as it exists now started with three patrol dogs in 1987 under then-Chief Terry Mangan. In 1988, two more patrol dogs and one drug dog were added. In 1995, the department was up to six patrol dogs and two drug dogs. But 2005 budget cuts eliminated one patrol dog and two drug dogs.

He’s bilingual. He has a split personality. And he once had a bit part on a national television show.

Meet Hero – who, like Bono and Sting, goes by just one name. He’s a police dog with the Spokane Police Department.

Spokane police Officer Kevin King, Hero’s partner, said the 7-year-old German shepherd is more than just a police dog. He’s the family pet.

“We’re his pack,” said King, adding it’s important the public knows both aspects of the dog.

The brown-and-black dog first arrived in the Inland Northwest at age 2.

When the lanky purebred got off the airplane, King was there to greet him, and the two have been partners ever since.

The German shepherd, who understands Czech and English, works a night shift 40 hours per week with King.

The first indication it’s almost time for work is the sound of his partner taking an afternoon shower. Hero whimpers, paces in a circle and jumps on his kennel door to let King know he’s ready.

When it’s time to go, King’s 11-year-old son lets Hero out of his kennel. The police dog makes a mad dash to the garage and jumps in the back seat of the patrol car. The door closes, and Hero is in the work zone.

Hero clearly loves his job, which is best described as fetch the bad guy.

To stay focused on his assigned task, the German shepherd was trained to resist normal doglike urges, such as chasing cats or foraging for unauthorized food.

Obedience is the key, King said.

“Hero’s ability is to follow a person’s scent. There’s nothing that man has ever created to follow that invisible trail to find where a person has gone,” King said of the tremendous advantage of having dog noses at work for the Police Department.

Hero can’t brag about his successes, but his partner doesn’t mind elaborating.

King recalled an occasion when a perpetrator ran toward a two-story warehouse, then disappeared. Two officers searched the warehouse’s perimeter and were convinced the man had escaped, “but Hero kept looking up.” The dog’s nose was right. The bad guy was on the roof.

Hero’s keen nose has foiled many who tried to elude police, but the crooks don’t appear to take it personally. While the police officers are verbally accosted, the K-9 dog often is complimented. Some suspects snared by Hero have said, “It’s not his fault I got bit; he’s just doing his job,” King recalled.

But Hero does more than track bad guys.

He once stopped a suicidal man from reaching two loaded guns he’d intended to use on himself or fire at the several police officers standing outside his home.

Hero bit the man in the leg and ended the ordeal.

“I felt bad that I had to send my dog to bite a disturbed individual, but I have no doubt that Hero saved that guy’s life,” King said. “A dog bite on the leg was better than letting someone die.”

A highlight in Hero’s career was his debut on “Cops” in 2004. King stole most of the camera shots, but Hero’s bark was heard loud and clear.

The police dog is also a local celebrity and is often featured on the King family Christmas card. The cards are themed after movies, with Hero as the star. Unlike his partner’s previous dogs, Hero hasn’t had to dress up as an angel or a Christmas tree, so he should consider himself lucky.

While Hero has been thrust into the limelight from time to time, the dog appears more comfortable with routine.

Hero’s favorite workday is Wednesday, training day, King said. It’s the day that he knows, without a doubt, that he’ll get to fetch the bad guy.

Through the obedience training and exercise, the German shepherd expresses his anxiousness through whines, and pants to hear King say twice in a row: “Spokane Police Department, come out now or I’ll release the dog. When he finds you, he will bite you.”

Hero dashes through a darkened warehouse or field. Within seconds King is telling his K-9 partner to let go of the man’s arm, which is protected by thick plastic and shag carpet.

On a typical workday, King and Hero go wherever they’re needed throughout Spokane.

Hero typically passes the time by barking whenever he sees someone from the patrol car.

After the partners get home, it’s time to chow down and relax.

Hero can’t eat before going to work because of a breed-related stomach condition. So he eats only once a day.What the police dog is like at home versus work is as different as Arnold Schwarzenegger in “Kindergarten Cop” and “The Terminator.”

Hero’s family includes His Partner, His Partner’s Other Partner, He Who Plays Fetch with Him and She Who Brushes Him.

The handsome black-and-tan dog has recently started spending time with Leah, a 2-year-old German shepherd from Missoula. The hope is that the two will eventually have puppies together that follow in Hero’s footsteps.

At home, whether Hero is sleeping in his Dogaloo, chewing on his black Kong – an indestructible chew toy – or going for a jog, his attitude is laid-back and easygoing. Unlike when he’s on patrol, the people who pass by his yard don’t muster a bark from him.

His favorite game at home is switch-a-roo. He Who Plays Fetch with Him, also known as 11-year-old Adam King, first throws the black Kong somewhere out onto the half-acre lawn. Before Hero gets all the way back to Adam, a tennis ball is thrown in the air. Hero drops the Kong and leaps off the ground to catch the tennis ball.

It’s a game he could play endlessly.

But the dog is most relaxed when 9-year-old Emily King, known to Hero as She Who Brushes Him, runs a wire-toothed brush through his thick black and brown fur. As he’s brushed, Hero lays completely still, eyes droopy, and gnaws on his Kong.

The only time Hero is more content is when he’s asleep, dreaming perhaps of the next chase.


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