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Weymouth canine officer Ed Hancock executes a drug search with canine Hax at Rockland Police Department. (Staff photo by Chris Bernstein)

Dog soldiers
By Max Bowen/ [email protected]
Wednesday, November 2, 2005

The Rockland Police Department is getting a dog.

And Weymouth police is giving its fellow officers some pointers on working with canines.

The Rockland police have received a $5,000 donation from Milk-Bone and Stop and Shop as part of their Canine Heroes Program which will cover the purchase of a K-9 dog for the department. Another $10,000-$12,000 needs to be raised through donations for the animal's equipment, which will include a pair of kennels and refitting the dog officer's cruiser.

"That's a real big expense out of it," said Rockland Officer Steve Somers, on the donation. "The canine will be there to supplement the patrol."

Somers, who will be Rockland's K-9 officer, had been trying to start up a program, called the RPD K-9 Foundation, to purchase a dog when he heard of Milk-Bone's canine program. He contacted them with his proposal, and the company agreed to help. Since 1997, the Milk-Bone Canine Heroes Program has sponsored over 500 police and service dogs. Recently, the program helped purchase a dog for a girl with muscular dystrophy in Boston.

"Without this donation, this wouldn't have happened," said Rockland Police Chief Kevin Donovan. "This is a win-win situation for the town."

As the K-9 officer, Somers will still have the regular duties of a patrolman, but will also have the added tasks of taking care of the dog, and will be responsible for its training. The department has been without a dog since the 1980's, when their last four-legged officer, Bullet, passed away. In cases where K-9 dogs are needed, the department calls the Plymouth County Sheriff's Department or the Weymouth Police.

"If a K-9 call should arrive, you'll have immediate response," said Somers.

According to Weymouth Police K-9 Officer Ed Hancock, training for the dog takes about 16 weeks, and covers a wide variety of skills. Basic skills such as tracking, handler protection, and crowd control are taught to the animal, and cross training is done as well, where the dog can learn to search for narcotics or gun parts. Rockland will be purchasing a German Shepherd from Chekoslovakia. These dogs are commonly used by police departments because of their ability to learn multiple skills. Beagles, Labradors and bloodhounds are also used by law enforcement officials but the training for these animals usually focuses on one set of skills, such as searching for drugs.

"German Shepherds are more versatile for cross training," said Hancock. "They have a higher drive."

At a ceremony where the check was presented to the Rockland Police, Weymouth officers gave a short demonstration of the dog's abilities. Hax, a two-and-a-half-year-old German Shepherd, located a store of drugs within a car. Whenever the dog caught a scent, he would whine excitedly and point his nose at where he found the scent. The dogs are only given food when they complete a certain task, such as finding a stash of drugs or responding to a command.

"It's an enhanced way to train them," said Hancock.

K-9 dogs can learn several methods of crowd control. One is to put a muzzle on the dog with a small metal bar attached, which the dog can use to strike anyone who gets too aggressive. Lessons on finding drugs or guns are done by having the odors imprinted on the animals. Hancock said the dogs are trained every day with the officer, and twice a month with several other dogs from the South Shore. The dog lives with the dog officer, which Hancock said establishes a stronger bond.

"When they're a dog at home, they're a dog at home, but when they got to work, they go to work," said Hancock. "They're like us out of uniform."

Financial donations can be mailed care of RPD K-9 Foundation, P.O. Box 13, Rockland MA, 02370. If you would like to make an equipment donation, please contact Officer Steve Somers at 781-871-3890.
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