- The Washington Times - Friday, July 13, 2001

Little Petey Geis watched with wide eyes yesterday as Duke, his family's dog, caught a shotgun-wielding man running from police, clamped his jaws on the man's right elbow and pulled him to the ground.
"Duke, out — heel," commanded Petie's father, Fairfax County Master Police Officer Pete Geis.
Duke released his grip. Reluctantly, but obediently, he returned to Officer Geis' side.
"That was pretty cool," the 7-year-old said.
Officer Geis and Duke were one of five dog-and-handler teams to graduate from basic patrol-dog school yesterday at the K-9 unit training center in Fairfax County, Va. About 50 officers and family members watched as two handlers from Fairfax, along with others from Prince William County, Falls Church and Herndon, demonstrated techniques they learned free-of-charge in the 14-week program.
One dog retrieved a wallet marked with a human scent that had been dropped in an open field. Another effortlessly located a man hiding in one of six large wooden boxes spaced 50 feet apart. All the dogs showed how they can capture people on the run, as Duke did.
"It was hard work, but it was very enjoyable," said Officer Pilar Uelmen. She and her dog, Kato, scored 98 percent on the program evaluation and won the class's Top Dog award. "I'm eager to take the dog out on the street and see what he can do in real life," she said.
Trainers say the real-life value of a police dog in tracking people and searching for drugs, bombs or property is inestimable. Their sense of smell is 200 times better than that of humans, they can hear a heartbeat at 15 feet, and they can sprint at 35 mph. Contrary to rumor, their bites are worse than their barks. But that's a weapon that's rarely employed. In the demonstrations yesterday, what was often more impressive than the dogs' abilities was their restraint.
"You used to say 'police canine' and one picture came into your head: the aggressiveness," said Lt. Pat Ronan, the K-9 section supervisor for the Fairfax County police.
He said only about 5 percent of all uses of police dogs involve bites. In 30 years, the K-9 unit has never been sued for negligence.
"Their nose is used more than their teeth," said Fairfax County Master Police Officer David Simpson, a dog trainer and handler for 10 years.
The dogs, all male German shepherds, are provided by a European vendor. Trainers say the German shepherd has the right combination of size, strength and agility for police work, and females are too valuable to breeders. The dogs were between 1 and 2 years old when they began working with the unit and will likely stay on for about seven or eight years. They live with their handlers, and many police dogs remain with them after they are retired.
Officer Geis hasn't had a chance to bond with Duke yet. This is his second time through the program and his expression changes completely when he talks about his last partner, Cuda. Cuda is retired but lives with the Geises.
"They're all just like regular dogs at home," said Officer Geis' wife, Julie. Mrs. Geis said the dogs couldn't be more gentle with the family's three children.
"They seem to know the difference between work and play," she said.
In most cases, officers who apply for the popular K-9 unit are dog lovers in the first place, so bringing home the animals doesn't require much of a change of lifestyle. Kato is Officer Uelmen's first police dog. She has an 8-year-old daughter and a 1-year-old son.
"A 75-pound German shepherd is not something you can just ignore," she said. "You just have to make the commitment to be vigilant."
Officer Uelmen, who said she always had pets, first applied for the unit in 1996 and is now one of two K-9 officers in Falls Church.
Fairfax has 13. Trainers hope they won't have to hold another class until fall 2002, but say they can't predict when a dog will have to be retired.
"Unfortunately, K-9 is one of those things where when you get to full strength, you don't stay there for long," Lt. Ronan said. In Alexandria last week, a police dog died of cancer. Also, officers may be promoted out of the K-9 unit, forcing their dogs back into training with a new handler.
Only one dog in recent memory has been killed in the line of duty in Fairfax. A German shepherd named Bullet was shot in 1977. A statue at the training site commemorates him.

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide