Different types of service dogs fascinate me. Police and military dogs, service dogs, therapy dogs, prison dogs. The relationships these dogs have with their humans are different and ones that I don’t know about from first-hand experience. As I continue to work on my Dogs Know Best journey, I knew I wanted to learn more about these amazing dogs and the different relationships they have with their humans. My hometown of Stow, Ohio, has three K-9 officers in the police department, so I thought it would be a great place to start my exploration.
Last week I had the pleasure of meeting with K-9 Officer Ted Bell, a 15-year K-9 officer in the department, and his partner, Mingo. Mingo is Officer Bell’s third K-9 partner, and as you can imagine, he had some amazing stories to share. Officer Bell was extremely generous with his time, spending nearly two hours with me, telling stories of his partners over the years, Bruno, Nero and now Mingo. He shared his scrapbooks that documented their life together, catching bad guys and keeping our city safe. Most importantly, he took the time to explain – at times as best he could – the unique relationship that a K-9 officer has with his four-legged partner. I added “as best he could” because at points there just weren’t the words to express the bond they share. More on that in a minute.
Officer Bell took me through the process of how the department gets a K-9 officer, in fact explaining how their vendor, Von der Haus Gill German Shepherds in Wapakoneta, OH, get their dogs from Europe. These are some of the best of the best. He explained the extensive training that the dogs go through, and what it’s like bringing a new dog into his home for the first night. That’s when the real bonding process really begins. K-9 officers and their handlers are together all day, every day. They live together, work together, they train together, they relax together. But the most important thing? Their lives depend on each other.
“A walk in the woods is worth a week of training.”
“We’re (K-9 Officers/Handlers) dog lovers, but the type of bond we have is different. They don’t see themselves as separate. We fight for each other. The bond is different when we’re fighting for each others’ survival. It’s a real partnership. They’re super-tough dogs; they’re fearless, they never give up. If they’re not, we can’t accomplish our goals. I owe it to them to fight for them and train them for it.”
When talking about different situations in the field with his K-9 partners over the years, Officer Bell was almost at a loss for words when describing the connection with his partner and how they communicate with each other. How, when tracking a bad guy, he is able to feel when they’re close because “there’s almost an electricity that comes up through the leash.” He added, “You get to a point where you know what each other is feeling.”
The Officers spend thousands of hours training together, including an intensive week of advanced training each year in Alpina, MI, where 240 dogs and their handlers from around the country put each other through the paces. The dogs go through stressful situations and environments, taking them to a high stress level in training so that they will respond appropriately when back on the job.
When it came time to finally meet Mingo, I was excited. Mingo is the first female K-9 Officer for this department. She is a 2-year old Belgian Malinois that Officer Bell started working with at 4 mo. old. When we rounded the corner and she saw me, her training kicked in and she began barking protectively. But as soon as Officer Bell gave her the sign that I was ok, she turned into the bouncy, energetic young dog that she is (“She’s a 60 lb. Jack Russell!”). She immediately went in for kisses, weaving in and out of my legs. She was every bit of the “attention hound” that Officer Bell described to me. But what immediately struck me was the intensity in her eyes. You could see that Mingo was on the job and ready to get serious at a moment’s notice. She watched Officer Bell and followed his lead. The bond was obvious. Mingo started riding along with Officer Bell and his previous partner, K-9 Nero, to learn the ropes. He trained her, bonded with her, worked with her on their time off. She was a fully certified K-9 Officer by the time she was a year old.
Confession time. Officer Mingo is my new dog crush! She was still full of puppy energy and affection, but her power and command was sitting right below the surface. I can say with 100% certainty that I feel safe knowing she and Officer Bell are on the job, along with their fellow K-9 Officers in the department, Officer Miller and K-9 Colt and Officer Dirker and K-9 Spectrum.
Officer Bell summed it up best when he explained, “They are what keeps me in this job. We are doing good. I’m proud of them; they protect us and find the bad guys.”
Thank you for your service, Officers Bell and Mingo.