The first time Spokane police Officer David Stone introduced his new partner, a German shepherd named Haywire, to his training officer, Haywire ended up hanging off the instructor’s arm by his teeth.
“Dave’s eyes are this big. I did my best not to freak out,” Officer Todd Belitz said. “I said, ‘Can you get your dog off my arm?’ That was five minutes into it. But Dave did a fantastic job.”
Stone and Haywire were one of four K-9 teams that graduated Thursday evening at the Spokane Police Academy.
The other teams are Yakima police Officer Brad Althauser and Zorro; Moses Lake police Officer Brad Zook and Rex; and Spokane Sheriff’s Deputy Amber Tyler and Brezo.
The only real hang-up with Brezo’s training came in the form of a giardia infection, which caused bowel problems, and some dramatic misfires, said Tyler, who has worked 3 1/2 years as a deputy since coming over from the Washington State Patrol. The misfires were in part due to Brezo’s age; he’s a 17-month-old German shepherd born in the Czech Republic.
“You don’t realize that they are still puppies because they look like a big dog,” she said. “Now is just the actual beginning. I’m kind of nervous but relieved to get back to work.”
For Stone, that work started before he even got his training certificate.
On Wednesday, Stone was driving home from training when he heard a radio call for a K-9 officer to assist others who had cornered a burglary suspect inside a fenced-in commercial area.
The property had a swampy area behind tall weeds. The suspect had crawled through the weeds and was submerged under the water except for his head. The officers on scene told the suspect that a K-9 unit was on the way, but he refused to come out.
“As soon as I came around, Haywire barked once. That’s all it took. He didn’t want to give up until he heard that dog,” Stone said. “That was the reward for all this training.”
Belitz said the officers and Deputy Tyler had to undergo a 10-week course that included 10-hour days. That training involved working with their dogs and also studying case law so that officers know the legal parameters for when the dogs can be deployed.
“Lots of hours go into that,” said Belitz, a K-9 officer who runs 6-year-old Zeus.
When suspects flee, they tend to run over barriers, through thick brush and hide in the worst places, Belitz said. Police dogs have to be willing to go all of those places and more.
“You have to learn to trust your dog. We had a guy who backtracked us on his scent,” Belitz said. “We found him hiding in a shed with a gun. We are a team.”
He told the families gathered they must be prepared to have the police dogs become a part of the officers’ lives.
“This is a unique job your loved ones are entering,” Belitz said. “Now they are taking this job home with them. They have to be responsible for these dogs for every second of every day.”
Even though Haywire mostly lived up to his namesake during the training course, Stone said he was glad to finally graduate.
“It was one of the most frustrating and rewarding things I’ve ever done,” he said.