Cape and Jackson have top police dogs in state

Monday, September 29, 2003

He's only been on the job for about a year, but a rookie Cape Girardeau police officer has already claimed the state's title for best narcotics detective -- in the canine division.

Bolo, a 3-year-old German shepherd imported from the Czech Republic, took first place in a drug search competition at the Missouri Police Canine Association's Fall Workshop held in Moberly.

Bolo and fellow Cape Girardeau K-9 Toben attended the workshop along with their handlers, police officers Roy Rahn Jr. and Paul Kesterson, and Jackson police Sgt. Kevin Harris and his K-9 partner, Baron.

The workshop included 40 hours of training in aggression, searches, narcotics and obedience. Thirty-two dogs and handlers from across the state attended the conference from Sept. 15 to 19.

In the narcotics competition, dogs found drugs hidden in four locations throughout a building. Bolo won first place by finishing with the fastest time. Baron won third, and Toben took fourth. The second-place dog was from a law enforcement agency in western Missouri, Rahn said.

"I was absolutely floored," Rahn said of Bolo's win. "I knew he had it down, but I didn't know how well. I think we're all top dogs. Mine just got a better time that day."

'Just happy to be working'

Kesterson said Toben likely didn't care whether it was a fake drug bust or a real one.

"The dogs are just happy to be working," he said. "He gets rewarded whether he comes in first, fourth or sixth. All the dogs were really close and were only separated by a matter of seconds."

With the exception of the second-place dog, all the winners were trained by master handler Mike Ervin of Cape Girardeau. Ervin operates Riverview K-9 training facility and is one of only seven trainers currently certified by the Missouri Police Canine Association.

"I was real proud of all of them," Ervin said. "I think we had some good dogs, good handlers and good training. When you combine all three, you get a winning team."

The workshop helped officers learn new techniques and training tips from peers. Rahn and Kesterson said they entered the competition for the training aspect, not in hopes of winning.

"You can get ideas of how to do certain things better," Kesterson said. "Sharing information, that's the best part."

When Cape Girardeau's police dogs put on demonstrations, Toben is occasionally allowed to receive petting from public admirers, but Bolo usually hangs back with Rahn.

"He's got the reputation of being the aggressive one," Rahn said with a grin. "He's not as people-oriented as Toben, I guess. But he's really not aggressive, he's just protective of me."

Bolo has spent enough time in the back seat of Rahn's cruiser to anticipate when he's about to go into action.

"He gets real keyed up," Rahn said. "If I'm getting ready to make a traffic stop, he knows it and he's excited. These dogs are a handful, they're full of energy and their drive is so intense."

'One long game' to dogs

A K-9 handler's day is filled with responding to numerous kinds of incidents in which a police trained dog's skills are needed, including burglaries, vehicle and building searches, crowd control, and even breaking up bar fights.

"To these dogs, everything is a game, nothing is work," Rahn said. "For Bolo, our entire shift is one long game."

After more than a year of constant companionship, Bolo's eager side only occasionally wears thin, Rahn said.

"It's hard to get him to shut up sometimes when I've got the sirens going," he said. "And I can't hear the radio well if he's barking."

Bolo and Toben joined the police department in August 2002 after months of training at Ervin's facility. The dogs and their handlers return every Monday for eight hours of additional training.

"It's a lot of work," Rahn said. "I didn't expect it to be that much when I first got into it. You're literally taking care of your partner -- feeding and watering him just like he's a kid. You make sure he's gotten his checkups and is healthy so that the community is getting what it paid for."

But all the requirements of maintaining a K-9 partner are outweighed by the benefits, he said.

"Lots of departments don't have a dog, and we're lucky enough to have two of our own and one in a nearby city if we need help," Rahn said. "And Mike Ervin has a dog of his own that he can loan us, too, so we're really fortunate."

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