- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 23, 2004

Bear is a local dog with a nose for trouble that has earned him a national championship.

But don’t expect to find the 3-year-old black Labrador retriever among the pampered set of the Westminster Kennel Club show. Bear is a working dog and last week bested 15 competitors in the U.S. Police Canine Association meeting in Bay St. Louis, Miss.

His job: sniffing out bombs and explosives for the Alexandria Police Department.

“He did great,” said Bear’s trainer, police Sgt. John Zook, 44.

In last week’s contest, Bear found explosives hidden in two of three indoor rooms within 15 minutes and outside in two of five cars within 10 minutes. He didn’t miss a target and finished faster than his 15 rivals to win the Grand Prize.

The explosives — TNT, dynamite, C-4 military explosive and detonation cord — were hidden amid books in a milk crate, an office desk drawer, a spare tire of an Isuzu and behind the headlight of a Cadillac.

After smelling an explosive, Bear didn’t scratch at or try to retrieve it. Instead, he did what he has been trained to do: He sat.

“After we find explosives, we call for someone else,” said Sgt. Zook, who transports the Labrador in a white police car labeled “Bear” and “K-9 Explosive Detection.”

Bear got his job after September 11, 2001, when Alexandria Police Chief Charles E. Samarra ordered the selection of a bomb-sniffing dog.

Since then, Bear has been called to duty for presidential visits and security detail at hearings for suspected al Qaeda terrorist Zacarias Moussaoui at U.S. District Court in Alexandria.

At home in Woodbridge, Bear often plays with Jennifer, 15, and Kristin, 17, the youngest of Sgt. and Nancy Zook’s four daughters. He usually sleeps on a rug beside the sergeant’s bed, although Sgt. Zook said the big, black beast occasionally tries to get into the bed.

One of those to learn about Bear’s award last week was Lisa McFadden, whose husband, two daughters and a son gave the 10-month-old pup, which they had named, to police about two years ago.

“We think he’s absolutely great,” said Mrs. McFadden, a computer-operations manager in Alexandria.

The opportunity for Bear’s police career came when an Alexandria K-9 officer helped jump-start the stalled car of Mrs. McFadden’s friend. Mrs. McFadden inquired about police dogs, how they were obtained and trained, then told her family.

“Our kids thought being a police officer would be pretty cool,” Mrs. McFadden said.

“Coincidentally, about the same time or the next day, the chief said he wanted a single-purpose dog,” said police spokesman Capt. John D. Crawford.

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