- Associated Press - Sunday, June 5, 2016

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (AP) - It’s a balmy Thursday in May, and Leo’s tongue is hanging out of his mouth.

The German Shepherd from Poland has spent a few hours running around old junker cars and a decrepit-looking building in search of drugs and the scent of people, tugging at a long leash at times, as though trying to pull the human at the other end to the right place. When this dog first came here, he was stubborn. Wanted to constantly fight.

Now, he pants a few times before finally lying down while that human on his leash, a Wells County sheriff’s deputy named A.J. Campbell, takes a knee next to him.

“The hardest thing to teach him was to get into this position,” Campbell says.

It’s been 13 weeks since Campbell and Leo - an acronym for Law Enforcement Officer - entered the Fort Wayne Police Department’s 14-week canine training class. And every one of them have been grueling. Campbell likens it to teaching a kid everything it needs to know in just 14 weeks.

But when the class is over, there is always a new officer coming out on the other end.

And it’s not just the dog.

Throughout any year, Fort Wayne police will put several dogs and officers wanting to handle a four-legged partner through a training gauntlet in hopes the pairings will become new assets for the department. These assets would help sniff out drugs, find people trying to run or hide from the police or, in some extreme cases, help protect others from those who may pose a violent threat.

Other departments who may have an officer ready to take on a canine partner can join the class if there’s room, which is how Campbell and Leo ended up in a class with Fort Wayne police Officer David Boles and his dog, Tempo.

And it’s training that is not to be taken lightly, as Boles quickly found out.

“I thought it would be easy going, a fun time and you just hit the streets,” he said. “It was completely the opposite.”

Boles had wanted to be a police officer since he was young. As a 17-year-old, he met Dave Gladieux - at the time an Allen County police officer who is now county sheriff - and his canine partner, Maverick. From that moment on, Boles says he knew exactly what kind of cop he wanted to be.

Flash forward roughly 15 years and Boles is a veteran on the force. Getting a canine partner is popular among officers, and it’s based on seniority. The more time you have on the job, the better your chances of getting picked to go through the training. Usually, officers wait about 10 or 12 years. Boles has waited a little longer.

At some point, he figured it was now or never, and he put his name out there as wanting a canine.

After a lengthy interview with the department’s master trainer, Sgt. Bob Theurer, as well as a nerve-wracking weekend awaiting word on whether he was chosen, Boles finally got the call he’d been dreaming about for years on a Monday. He turned to his wife, Becky, and told her the news.

“We went out to Rack and Helen’s that night,” he said. “The best sausage roll in town.”

Never having had a dog as a partner, Boles was paired with a dog that had been trained by another officer previously. Tempo had about a year of service in the field under his belt, according to Theurer, and Boles’ dreams of it being an easygoing task were dashed fast.

“I thought you just teach the dogs some commands and they’ll do it,” he said. “That’s not the case. He’d have bad days; I’d have bad days.”

Like humans, every dog has its own personality, says Theurer, who has worked with dogs in some fashion for 20 years. He’s seen all types come through his classes. Officers who, like Boles, think it’ll be fun and easy only to find they’re not cut out to handle the animals. Dogs that seem so-so at best during the training might go on to become great in the field, and vice versa - naturals in training that don’t live up to expectations.

Throughout the years, the dogs have become more specialized. They’re bred to be work dogs nowadays, compared with decades gone by.

“These dogs are motivated to do this,” Theurer said.

The officers have to be, too, as both Campbell and Boles found out.

A week after the balmy Thursday in May, both found themselves with their dogs standing before police brass and family in the bowels of Citizens Square. There, they were going through a graduation ceremony - the end of week No. 14, where they were officially deemed able to hit the streets with their new partners.

And both were all smiles.

“One of the biggest challenges I’ve ever done in my life,” Campbell said.

After the ceremony, Boles is handed a certificate on which his and Tempo’s names are printed. There is a blank space on the bottom, and someone points out to him that his new partner’s paw print is designed to be stamped there. “Really?” Boles asks. Everyone shakes their heads yes. “I’m going to frame this sucker,” Boles says, excitedly.

As he’s getting handshakes and clasps on the back and the congratulations from his family and all the other officers with canines, Boles begins thinking back on what he just accomplished. He says the canine class was just as intense as the 20-week academy he went through upon joining the force.

He gets a rush of excitement and nervousness, one he hasn’t felt since he was a rookie, he says. There’s a sense of relief that he’ll be out on his own, still .

“Now the nerves start,” he says.

But he won’t be doing it alone. He’ll have his partner with him.

Both, in a sense, new officers now.

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Source: The (Fort Wayne) Journal Gazette, https://bit.ly/1sZXUmS

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Information from: The Journal Gazette, https://www.journalgazette.net

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC.

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