Police dogs Bolo and Toben join Cape force Putting the teeth in

Thursday, August 15, 2002

Two freshmen members of the Cape Girardeau Police Department are now patrolling the city, complete with the noses and teeth necessary for them to protect and serve.

Bolo and Toben, the city's new police dogs, demonstrated their skills at a special exhibition Wednesday for one of their biggest supporters, 11-year-old Ashten Howard of Jackson, Mo.

Ashten was treated to an exclusive meeting with the German shepherds because of her significant donation to the "Pay for the Pup" fund-raising campaign, promoted through the Southeast Missourian Jr. Overall, $18,074.88 was raised to acquire the dogs.

The honor-roll student gave up having a birthday party in March and instead donated $100 to the effort to buy the dogs.

Ashten, who plans to become a veterinarian, made her donation after reading a newspaper article about the city's need for a new police dog.

The smile on her face widened as she petted Bolo and Toben, and it was evident that her time with them more than made up for her sacrifice.

The police department was so taken with Ashten's gesture that they gave her a birthday cake at the demonstration to make up for the one she didn't get in the spring.

"Probably the best part was getting to see all the training and tracking that they could do," Ashten said. "I was surprised at how much work they have to do -- it's tons more than I thought it'd have to be."

Local K-9 trainer Mike Ervin and the dogs' police handlers, Roy Rahn Jr. and Paul Kesterson, showed Ashten and her parents, Greg and Joan Howard, the skills Bolo and Toben have learned at Ervin's training facility.

Selected carefullyBolo and Toben were imported about two months ago from the Czech Republic and met their new handlers shortly afterward. Kesterson was paired with Bolo and Rahn with Toben. The dogs spent two weeks at the officers' homes to encourage bonding.

Neither dog received any training until arriving at Ervin's facility. Once there, they were evaluated to see if they had the right temperament to become police dogs. Both are nearly 2 years old.

"Not just any German shepherd can make it as a police dog," Ervin said. "We have to test hundreds just to find those that are right for the job."

Large dogs are not ideal for police work, which often takes them into crowded and tight areas. Bolo and Toben will grow to about 80 pounds each, making them just the right size for easy maneuvering by their handlers.

Months of trainingBolo and Toben have been taught many of the skills they'll need, but Ervin said they will receive training for many months to come as they mature and learn more about what is expected of them.

They were trained with German commands because it is the most common language used in the field, Ervin said. In addition, it prevents confusion if a perpetrator tries to command the dog in English. Because of the close connection the dogs establish with their handlers, not just anyone can command them.

"The dogs go not so much on the actual words, than upon the sound of the words," Ervin said.

Their training includes tracking, defense, criminal apprehension, building and area searches, narcotics searches and obedience.

Dog training doesn't come without a few mishaps, however, said Ervin, who has suffered bites and scratches in his 20 years as a trainer.

Kesterson learned this when Bolo nipped his shorts while going after a toy pipe during the early phase of the dog's training.

"They're just so focused on the pipes because that's their reward," Kesterson said.

Ervin considers his work as both training for the dogs and training for their handlers. Both have to learn the other's behaviors and expectations in order to be successful and safe.

Demanding workPolice dogs must have high prey drive for criminal apprehension, and they need a high hunt drive to find narcotics.

To encourage the hunt drive, training toys are tough, plastic pipes containing a small amount of narcotics. The dogs become obsessed with the toy and strongly associate the drug scent with it.

When they are led to a drug search, they are instructed to "find it." When the dog indicates he has found drugs, the handler rewards him with the toy and praises him heavily.

Police dogs are protected from coming into physical contact with the small amount of drugs in their toys. However, they face exposure while working, and their careers and lives can end if they ingest or inhale the drugs they find. This is why police dogs are never taken into active methamphetamine labs, which contain dangerous chemicals, Ervin said.

Cape Girardeau's new Petco store donated a bullet-proof vest for one of the dogs. The department also has a used vest left behind by Bolo and Toben's predecessor, Jupp, who retired earlier this year, though his vest may be too large.

mwells@semissourian.com

335-6611 extension 160

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