Crazy for ca­nines

The Washington Post Sunday - - METRO - JOHN KELLY'S WASHINGTON kel­lyj@wash­post.com

The Capi­tol Po­lice are up­grad­ing their K9 cars to add fea­tures that will keep the furry fuzz safer on duty.

The Capi­tol Po­lice are chang­ing the look of their po­lice cars. One of the things I liked a lot about their old K9 car­swas that the name of the dog­was painted on the rear pas­sen­ger door. I haven’t seen this on the new­cars. Can you find out more about the Capi­tol Po­lice dogs? How­many of them are there? Howdo they get their names? Do they live with the of­fi­cers?

— Melanie Dann, Washington

Never fear, the dogs’ names will soon be grac­ing the ve­hi­cles. The names are de­cals and will be stuck on the rear doors as soon as they ar­rive.

It isn’t just the paint job that’s new, said Sgt. Kimberly Schneider, pub­lic in­for­ma­tion of­fi­cer. The Ford Crown Vic­to­ria K9 ve­hi­cles have sev­eral nifty fea­tures. There are state-of-theart cages in­side to trans­port the dogs safely, and each ve­hi­cle comes with theHot­dog safety sys­tem, made by a com­pany called Crim­i­nal­is­tics Inc. Dur­ing the sum­mer, the ve­hi­cle’s air­con­di­tion­ing sys­tem keeps the ca­nine oc­cu­pant com­fort­able. If the AC fails and the mer­cury rises, theHot­dog sys­tem rolls down the elec­tric win­dows and sounds the ve­hi­cle horn.

Ex­actly 50 dogs work for the U.S. Capi­tol Po­lice. They are trained, along with their han­dlers, at a fa­cil­ity near Blue Plains.

The dogs come from var­i­ous sources. Many are pur­chased from AuburnUniver­sity, which has a spe­cial breed­ing pro­gram for de­tec­tor dogs— dogs who use their noses to find bad things. Oth­ers come from lo­cal res­cue groups. The ca­nine per­son­nel in­cludeGer­man shep­herds, Dutch shep­herds, Bel­gian Mali­nois, Labrador re­triev­ers and one golden retriever.

All but one of the dogs are used to de­tect ex­plo­sives. Benny, the Ger­man shep­herd han­dled by Sgt. Charles H. Aber­nethy, lead in­struc­tor in the ca­nine sec­tion, is the sin­gle pa­trol dog, used to find and ap­pre­hend sus­pects.

Since the dogs are usu­ally at least 18 months old when they ar­rive for train­ing, they al­ready have names. Oc­ca­sion­ally a name is changed. “We don’t want too many dogs with the same name,” Aber­nethy said. “We have a Nero and a Nero 2. Af­ter that there’s no moreNeros.”

The train­ing takes 12 to 14 weeks and cen­ters around a dog’s predilec­tion to have a good time. In­struc­tors look for what most in­ter­ests a dog in terms of play. “It could be a ten­nis ball, it could be a Kong, it could be a stuffed an­i­mal,” Aber­nethy said. “You just have to find out what the dog val­ues.”

That item be­comes the re­ward given to the dog when it suc­cess­fully de­tects ex­plo­sives. An­swer­Man won­dered whether the of­fi­cers se­cretly hope the dog will pre­fer a ten­nis ball, so they don’t have to carry around a stuffed an­i­mal, but Aber­nethy said no, the of­fi­cers just want a skilled dog, one that ex­hibits clear be­hav­ior when it finds a bomb. ( Which it does ev­ery day: The dogs are con­stantly trained with vary­ing quan­ti­ties and types of ex­plo­sives.)

Some re­cruits wash out. Said Aber­nethy: “Some of the dogs at the be­gin­ning have a very good ball drive, but af­ter a cou­ple of weeks, the re­ward just isn’t worth the work.”

Af­ter two or three weeks, han­dlers are as­signed a dog. Af­ter 10 weeks, the dogs go home with their han­dlers. That’s where they will live. “From that point on they start be­com­ing a mem­ber of the fam­ily,” said Aber­nethy. “When my dog gets in the car, he knows, ‘Okay, now I’mgo­ing to work.’ When he’s at home he lays around just like he’s just any house pet.”

If they stay healthy, dogs work un­til they’re about 10. Most stay with their han­dler af­ter that, even when a new­dog comes on the scene. Aber­nethy’s first dog, a Ger­man shep­herd named Al­fonz, re­tired with his fam­ily. And now Benny is 10. A new­dog might be in the fu­ture.

Like the loyal govern­ment em­ploy­ees they are, re­tired dogs get a pen­sion: free food and one vet ap­point­ment a year.

New year, same ef­fort

It’s a newyear and what bet­ter way to kick it off than with a do­na­tion to Chil­dren’sHospi­tal? Think of it as a mod­est de­posit into the karmic bank. Your gift will help pay the med­i­cal bills of poor chil­dren. Please send a check or money or­der (payable to Chil­dren’sHospi­tal) to Washington Post Cam­paign, P.O. Box 17390, Bal­ti­more, Md. 21297-1390. To do­nate on­line with a credit card, go to www.wash­ing­ton­post.com/ chil­dren­shos­pi­tal or call 301-565-8501.

PHO­TOS COUR­TESY OF U.S. CAPI­TOL PO­LICE

U.S.Capi­tol Po­lice K9 Tech­ni­cian Ti­mothy Cullen with Oak­ley.

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