Tracking specialist for Cheney police that barks ‘loves to work’
For a little more than a year, Officer Zeb Campbell of the Cheney Police Department has been in training and working with his new partner, Kira.
Kira is a 20-month-old, 70-pound American bloodhound assigned to Campbell to help track down missing people, whether they are dementia patients who have wandered off, prisoners who have escaped, missing children or suspects.
“It’s been going really well,” Campbell said of his partnership with Kira.
The dog and partner have spent a lot of time in training and have been out looking for people. Kira travels with Campbell in a special K-9 police car donated by Defender Development in Cheney. The car has a full kennel for her in the back seat. If Campbell makes an arrest, he’ll call for another officer on duty for transport.
This summer Kira and Campbell were deployed for cannabis eradication training in the Wenatchee and Yakima areas. They were invited for the training by the Washington State Patrol and the Drug Enforcement Agency.
The two were harnessed to a line that hung below a helicopter and traveled to remote areas. The two were lowered to the ground and practiced tracking suspects fleeing from marijuana grows.
Preparing Kira for this mission took a little help from the Cheney Fire Department. Firefighters hoisted Campbell and Kira – wearing protective eye goggles made for dogs, called Doggles – high in the air using the department’s ladder truck to get her used to heights. When the two trained on the helicopters, Campbell said she was a little distracted by the wind off the propeller blades. Campbell said Kira didn’t seem afraid dangling from a line below the helicopter.
“She loved it,” he said.
Kira, like any other Cheney Police Department employee, is evaluated yearly on her performance. Campbell said she is rewarded with praise and with more work.
When she arrived at the department, the officers were calling her April. But she needed a permanent name fast so she would learn it. Someone mentioned the name Kira, which is a Greek title of respect for a woman.
She’s one of only a handful of bloodhounds that work with K-9 officers in the state. She was donated by the Sheriff’s Office in Newberry County, S.C., and almost everything about her program in Cheney has been donated. Along with the donated vehicle, Cheney City Councilman Graeme Webster has donated her food, Blackhawk Veterinary Hospital donates her care and the Cheney Care Center donated her kennel at home.
Campbell said it is a dog’s natural instinct to chew, so Kira has a chew toy. When she isn’t working, she stays in her kennel at home. Campbell has a family pet as well, and he said the two tolerate each other.
Kira wasn’t bred to be an aggressive dog. When she finds whoever she’s looking for, she might bark, but she shouldn’t bite. She will taste the air around her when she is on a scent, but if she is barking, she isn’t tracking. She is trained in sniffing out human odors and has the long ears and loose skin on her face to kick up odors from the ground.
Campbell warns that, as with any other dog, people shouldn’t just approach her and start petting. Although he admits that her floppy ears are tempting to pet, affection is one of her rewards, since she is a praise-driven working dog.
“She’s a very hyper dog,” Campbell said. “She loves to work and she doesn’t know she’s working.”
She works a lot. Campbell said they work about a 54-hour week and she is always with him when he is on duty.
“I’m impressed with the work that Zeb’s done,” said Lt. Dave Mather of the Cheney Police Department. He said he often hears Kira barking in the background when Campbell is using his police scanner. Mather also appreciates the work that Kira does.
“It’s all about the scent,” he said. “It’s all about the tracking.”