Photo: Dean Scoville
The nexus between the canine and our profession takes many forms, both colloquially and practically. Trainees are referred to as "puppies," and aggressive cops are characterized as "hot dogs." Real dogs also play a major role in modern law enforcement. The K-9 unit has long proven itself to be a criminal's worst nightmare, and there are no less than seven different types of search dogs available to law enforcement.
So you would think that given their relative worth canines would get a greater measure of respect from cops.
But that hasn't stopped some bozo with a badge from giving bars of chocolate to a police K-9 and leaving its handlers to clean up the aftermath left in their patrol units, a practice more cruel than possibly intended, given the dangers a Hershey bar can pose for a dog.
Of course, I have also known of situations where K-9s didn't exactly endear themselves to the profession's ranks, proving to be equally capable of biting a uniformed cop as a bad guy, and every bit as willing. Still, I can think of no other less-lethal tool in law enforcement's arsenal that criminals are more terrified of, or that will find their likes curled up and whimpering in the aftermath of their deployment and renouncing any and all fidelities to the ASPCA.
Aside from being deservedly bit as a child—like Sylvester the Cat, I was teasing a specimen whose length of tether I'd disastrously underestimated—I have had only one representative of the species come close to extracting some skin out of me.
It was while I was on patrol. I had just opened up a back screen door in preparation of stepping into a backyard during a residential search when I paused and turned in response to a fellow deputy's question of me. Suddenly I felt a strong tug of my left leg and looked down to find a pit bull attached to my lower pants leg. As I did not recall having seen this fashion accessory earlier that day and the nature of my enterprise meant that my sidearm was already out, I decided to relieve myself of it. But as I aimed the barrel of my revolver at the dog's head I also took note that while its head was on this side of the screen door, its body was on the other. By applying pressure to the screen door I allowed the dog to decide whether or not to release its 235-psi bite volitionally, or ballistically. Fortunately for both of us, it let go.
I know I will probably get hate mail for saying so, but I have to admit to an immense dislike of pit bulls as a rule (I may not be alone in my bias. Google "officer shot pit bull" sometime). Still, on those infrequent occasions when I do hear of a pit bull doing something good I file it away. There is no inconsistency to my posture: I have always said that I like to have my prejudices shaken to their core.
That is not to say that for one second I blame those officers that have had to fire on man’s best friend. While on duty I jumped over many a fence or somehow otherwise found myself in somebody's backyard confronted by a barking representative of the species that would aggressively approach. And I've had to show many of them the barrel of my gun. I don't know if it was the absence of fear or the perceived willingness on my part to do whatever was necessary but each and every time the dogs hit the brakes and reconsidered their posture. Of course, none of these dogs were pit bulls.
As a result, I have been spared the misfortune of having to shoot a dog although there was one time where I wish I could have euthanized a Labrador that had been eviscerated by a pit bull. Had I been in a rural area instead of a residential driveway, I would have.
While the image of that dying dog is one I would like to forget, there is a dog that I would like to have seen a second time. It's the one that introduced itself to Steve Remige and I one morning as we were returning to the station from an early morning shift.
Remige, who would later become President of the Association of Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs, was driving and I was bookman. This allowed me the optimal viewpoint to watch as a pit bull charged our car and ran headlong into my passenger side door.
Having left a sizable dent in the door, the dog simply made a U-turn before looking back with a "f**k you" smirk and disappearing. To this day I am not sure if the watch sergeant bought our story but for once it was the truth. As it stands, we still fared better than this guy.
I suspect that there is a reason why we don't see many pit bulls as police dogs. Perhaps it's because their shorter snouts makes their sniffers less dependable, although I suspect it has more to do with their temperament. If that latter criteria is the trump card, it's a small wonder that the police K-9 field is so surfeit with Belgian Malinois and German Shepherds, also both very temperamental animals. Perhaps a K-9 handler will explain this to me.
In any event, one might reasonably wonder how many police officers' lives and those of others have been saved by these our furry brethren in blue that have repeatedly proven themselves in everything from suspect searches to 9/11 rescue efforts–often, at the expense of their own lives.
And let it be known that, on the whole, I love dogs and suspect that most officers do, too. Here's a pic of my latest.
In closing, I hope the next time you see a police pooch you'll give him a pat of the back.
If he'll let you.
PHOTOS: Police Dogs