Dusty looked back and forth at his handler and the person walking toward the police officer. He waited to see if there was any danger before approaching the person to smell and check to ensure everything was OK.
Dusty’s handler, Cortez K9 officer Frank Kobel, told the person to remain still while Dusty conducted his work.
Dusty is the city’s Police K9 Officer and has been on the job since 2009. A major part of his job is to protect his handler at all times.
Since Dusty became a member of the police department, Kobel has had to deploy him 195 times, and the K9 has also been a part of 64 arrests.
Local police officers are often accompanied by dogs while on duty, and the K9s have also been trained and sometimes provided to help law enforcement.
The Cortez Police has one police K9, while the Montezuma County Sheriff’s Office has two such canines. Other police agencies based in Montezuma County also have K9s to assist them with their work.
Montezuma County Sheriff Dennis Spruell has been a dog trainer and handler for 13 years.
Spruell said when he moved from the city police department to the sheriff’s office, K9 Basin, who Spruell trained, came with him as well as the dog’s handler,’
The sheriff’s office second K9, Viko, was trained in Southern California.
Spruell said the K9s are extremely important and are able to track and even apprehend fleeing suspects.
“They are a fantastic tool, and we absolutely love them,” Spruell said.
Several years ago while a member of the Cortez Police Department, Spruell sent Lobo, his K9, into Slaven’s Hardware where a burglary had occurred. Lobo was shot and killed.
Kobel said Lobo possibly saved the lives of several officers that day.
K9s are used for locating narcotics, offer protection for the officer and are also used for searches due to their keen sense of smell.
Like almost all police K9s, the Montezuma County police dogs are handled by just one handler. The dog goes home with the officer at the end of the work day because of the powerful bond developed between them.
Dusty was able to be purchased through the Police Dog Foundation, and Kobel said the department wouldn’t have the dog otherwise.
ALL THE WAY FROM GERMANY
Dusty is a 6-year-old German shepherd that was hand selected and picked up in Germany by the California trainers who took him back to the Golden state to undergo police training.
Kobel also went through six weeks of training with Dusty. The training dealt with two phases — drug training and patrol.
When Dusty arrived in the county, Spruell worked with the dog and master, training them both on how to spot possible narcotic usage or possession of the drugs.
The commands Kobel gives to Dusty are not what most residents will understand — The German shepherd only understands German commands.
Kobel admits that he does not know the German language but knows about 20 commands he can give to his dog. Those commands may not be the exact pronunciation, but Dusty seems to understand them.
Some commands include “platz” for lay down, “blieb” for stay and “fass” for take hold of.
The K9 dog handler wants to dispel the notion that Dusty or any other police K9 are vicious animals that are constantly used for taking down suspects.
“We use them for their nose, not their teeth,” he said.
PICKING THE RIGHT DOG
Not any dog can be a police K9, in fact very few of them can handle the job.
Most police agencies use purebred German shepherds that must have the right temperament to be trained for police work.
The dogs are tested to determine what type of personalities they have.
Kobel said there are many places trainers visit to find the right fit for the agency and the K9, and added there is no set age where the dog will be retired to the home of their handler.
He expects Dusty to be by his side on the police force for at least four more years.
“If you have a whole litter of dogs, even the ones bred for this work does not necessarily mean they have the (traits needed) to be one,” he said.
The dog must also have a good temperament when it comes to relating to people and other family pets. In Kobel’s home, there are a few small dogs that Dusty lives and gets along with.
Kobel said when he begins getting dressed for work, Dusty gets excited.
“He knows the difference (between work and play),” he said. “They want to go to work.”
He said the dogs know they will be rewarded, and that is key to get them to follow commands.
A police dog usually costs between $9,000 and $12,000 but that does not include the training and other things such as vaccinations.
“These are not your average German shepherds you find in your backyard,” he said.
Kobel and Dusty make trips to schools and give demonstrations. Kobel confessed that the students are much more intrigued by his partner than they are by him.
In the elementary schools they give demonstrations and at the middle school, high school and the Southwest Open Charter School when requested Dusty is used to search for illegal drugs.
Kobel had to attend the initial police academy and also must complete a minimum of four hours of training a week to remain a certified K9 handler.
As Dusty sat in the back of the patrol car looking at Kobel and the person he was talking to, the German shepherd police dog was on guard and ready to act if anything were to occur.
The officer explained that the K9 was being very protective of his well being.
“You don’t want to touch me,” he said. “Touching me is not good.”
Kobel also explained the police K9 handlers are commonly called Dad because they are in essence the father of and provider for the dog.
Even the patrol car Kobel uses is designed for a K9. Dusty rides in the back seat and the door reads: “Caution K-9.”