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Rutland’s favorite furry four-legged 4-year-old is trying to win his dad a brand-new car.

For those who haven’t met Cobalt and his handler, Rutland City Police Officer Nathan Harvey, they’re the only K-9 unit at the department and are often seen in their 2014 Ford Explorer cruiser.

Vested Interest in K-9s Inc. collects donations and donates bullet-proof vests, including the one Cobalt wears, to police dogs around the country, and last year they raised enough money to give away a police cruiser to the Fulton County, Ohio, Sheriff’s Department K-9 team Deputy Justin Galbraith and K-9 Fazzo.

Though Rutland City didn’t bring home the free cruiser last year, this year it’s been selected as one of the finalists in the voting competition, pitting them against 29 K-9 teams from across the country, including Ohio, New Jersey, Minnesota, Maine and New Hampshire.

As they’ve been selected as a finalist, Harvey said, they will never be allowed to apply again. “This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” Harvey said, otherwise the department would have to take a loss.

If they recruit the most votes, Harvey and Cobalt will win a fully K-9-outfitted 2019 Chevy Tahoe which, for the team, is a huge improvement over their current SUV, which had some trouble starting Friday morning.

And it’s not the first time: His current cruiser was originally a K-9 car recycled over to become an administrative car, before it was transitioned back again into the K-9 unit, but Harvey had to customize it himself and drill holes in the plexiglass shield in lieu of a proper cage.

“It’s getting old, and it’s getting up there in miles,” Harvey said. “Just like all old cars, they have their issues. … There’s no place in the budget for a new K-9 car, ever.”

K-9 cars are specifically outfitted with K-9 cages, special lights, automatic doors for when they need their dogs in an emergency situation and sensors that tell when the temperature is rising while Cobalt is inside, triggering automatic fans and the windows to roll down so he can cool off.

And the cruisers cost a pretty penny, somewhere in the vicinity of $50,000, Harvey said.

“It all depends on how many votes we get,” Harvey said. “Every single person can vote once a day until Oct. 31.”

After serving in the U.S. Marines from 2009 to 2012 in Afghanistan with a bomb-sniffing K-9, Harvey realized the K-9 team experience would become his life’s passion, and was selected to be Rutland’s K-9 officer after he joined the department in 2014.

“I loved the work they did,” Harvey said. “When I became a police officer, I always wanted to be a handler.”

In 2017, Rutland City Police selected 1-year-old Cobalt, a dark-faced German shepherd imported from Slovakia and sold by Connecticut Canine Services, to join the Rutland team.

“Dogs in America, we kind of bred down to get the good working breeds to be better house pets,” Harvey said. “In Europe, they didn’t do that. They just kept breeding really good working dogs, so a lot of military and police dogs come from Europe.”

They started their training at the Vermont Police Academy in January 2017 and graduated in November 2017, becoming a full-time member of the RCPD as a patrol and narcotics dog trained to track suspects or find people inside buildings, apprehend them, find evidence outside and to locate cocaine, heroin, crack cocaine, methamphetamine and Ecstasy.

Calls can number 20 times a month, Harvey said, with the majority of calls being for drug sniffs, and he helped apprehend a violent suspect just last week.

Cobalt is certified once a year, has a proven 100% effective narcotics-location rate, and placed third earlier this year in a national certification competition that tested agility, obedience, evidence, and suspect search and apprehension.

With a simple hand gesture and command, Cobalt focuses his attention on everything his handler tells him, including waiting for permission to move, play and move from the car.

When he retires, Cobalt will enjoy a cushy life with Dad, but he’ll be on the force for awhile before the Rutland PD goes looking for their next four-legged hero to join the team, and they currently have a spot open for another K-9 handler on the force.

“We’re going against teams from highly populous areas,” Harvey said of the contest. “Getting the numbers from Vermont is going to be difficult.”

Votes can be cast at Vik9s.org.

katelyn.barcellos @rutlandherald.com

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