- Associated Press - Monday, April 20, 2015

MONROE, La. (AP) - Monroe Police Sgt. James Marlow and Ouachita Parish sheriff’s deputy Kenneth Russ see their partners more than their families. At work, at home, wherever they go, their partners tag along.

Working with K-9s is like spending the day with an energetic child - they want to play, be showered with attention and eat any treat thrown their way.

But when it’s time to work, a few orders snap the dogs to serious attention.

Russ and his K-9, Tomec, have been partners for more than four years. Bruno and Marlow have been together a little longer. Bruno is reaching retirement age. He’s 9 years old. When a canine reaches 10, agencies begin to consider retiring them.

Tomec was Russ’ first K-9 after he followed the career path of his father, Kenneth Russ Sr.

“My dad was a K-9 handler for the Sterlington Police Department about 25 years ago, and I thought that was the coolest thing. When I got into law enforcement 13 years ago that’s what I wanted to do. I was the guy who put the suit on for two and a half years, decoyed and helped them out with training,” Russ said.

Marlow also spent many days in the bite suit, taking the brunt of police dog attacks.

“That is really where your training begins,” he said. “You are not just a dummy in a suit. … You learn so much when you are in that suit and the dog comes in - their changes in breathing, how they go from their mouth to the nose, which is when they smell the decoy. Their breathing changes and the pace changes. They get more intense.”

To become an effective crime-fighting unit, handlers and their dogs must spend a lot of time together, though most handlers say feeding dogs is the best way to make them your fast friends.

“He lives with me, my wife and kids - I spend more time with him than anyone. He’s with me at work and at home. We go on vacations if at all possible because I don’t want someone else to take care of him,” Russ said. “He relies on me. He will do anything he can to make me happy and protect me and vice versa. I will do everything in my power to make sure nothing happens to him.

“We watch each other’s backs. If you haven’t lived it, it is hard to explain the bond a handler and his K-9 has together.”

The bond is beyond owner and pet.

“We spend more time with these dogs than our families. I am very seldom away from him,” Marlow said.

He has countless stories of Bruno defusing a situation, preventing harm to others, including officers and suspects.

“He has definitely saved officers’ lives and even suspects’ lives, because if they come out with a gun we are forced to use lethal force,” Marlow said.

Tomec and Bruno are Belgian Malinois - the breed most regional departments use for police dogs. They are dedicated, well-trained and adapt well to the heat. They’re also not as prone to hip problems as German shepherds.

Police dogs are sociable, going to schools to greet children and making other public appearances. Several decades ago that wasn’t the case: trainers thought the dogs wouldn’t be able to act as police dogs if they got friendly with too many people.

“He’s just a big puppy dog to a point … until it’s time to go to work. When you give him the command to go to work he’s a totally different dog. When he’s at home he’s a big, hairy baby. My 1-year-old son can crawl all over him and he just lays there,” Russ said.

But with a few commands in Dutch, he can become a suspect’s worst experience, taking them down in seconds.

Marlow and Russ said 90 percent of the time when police tell someone holed up in a building that they’ll send in a police dog, he will surrender without incident.

That’s a huge benefit and provides a much safer outcome, Marlow said.

“We’d much rather have a suspect come out and give up to us and taken into custody and not have to put the dog in the field. So we are not hurt, the suspect is not hurt, and the final result is the same - the suspect is going to jail anyway,” Marlow said.

Bruno and Tomec recently apprehended burglary suspects who were repeatedly breaking into businesses.

“We cleared a lot of commercial burglaries with that arrest,” Russ said.

K-9 officers are sent out to all violent crimes and burglaries in progress.

“Anytime a dog is needed, we are en route. They are all high-drive animals. They want to work. They love to work,” Russ said.

And most K-9 handlers are just excited about their job, working with their four-legged partners.

“I love it. I’ve always been an animal lover. When I saw the K-9 handlers work one night I was very impressed and knew this was what I wanted to do. This really is my passion,” Marlow said.

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Information from: The News-Star, https://www.thenewsstar.com

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