Time to retire: Looking out for 2 K9 officers that deserve quality of life after service

K-9 Officers Toyo and Jake are retiring from the Prescott Valley Police Department. Both have developed health issues that limit their usefulness on patrol, said PVPD Officer Paul Hines, who has worked with both dogs.

Toyo, 5, is a drug detection K-9 and also participates in community relations; she’s been with the department for most her life. Jake, 9, works patrol and narcotics, and has worked with PVPD for six years.

Toyo has had a successful knee replacement surgery, but arthritis in the other knee is worsening, Hines said. “Going in and out of the vehicle, I’m afraid she’s going to blow out the other one.”

The department has X-rays taken before it purchases its canines, but those X-rays don’t include knee joints. Toyo is the first Labrador Retriever the department has owned, and Hines said he thought arthritis was trait Labs have.

“She still does the job. She’s still finding dope to this day. It’s not that she can’t find it, it’s just hard to get around and do the things we’re asking her to do on a daily basis,” Hines said.

Jake, formerly with the Oxnard, California, Police Department where he earned a medal of honor, has been with PVPD for six years handled by Officers Dave McNally and Layton Cooper. After retirement, Jake will live with either one.

Jake has slowed down considerably. A “high-drive” dog, he still believes he can do the job at the same speed as when he was a younger dog — and he can — but doing so could place him in a precarious position.

“We’re looking at the welfare of the dog on this. He needs a good quality of life afterwards,” Hines said. Jake no longer trains by searching a five-acre parcel, for instance. If he did so on a regular basis, he would need a couple days to recuperate.

“It happens to all of us,” Hines said about getting older.

Thanks to a donation from the Hicks Law Enforcement Canine Fund through the Arizona Community Foundation, the Prescott Valley Town Council accepted a $25,564 grant. The money will help pay for two, maybe three, more dogs.

Hines currently is training Turco, a 6-year-old male German Shepherd. Turco has had two previous handlers before Hines.

“He’s a super social dog, and does great within my family. We’ve had him for the past three weeks,” Hines said, adding that Turco gets along well with retired PVPD K9 Kyo, two puppies, another dog, and his chickens. He anticipates Turco passing his certification requirements in narcotics and patrol work this week.

Hines will be researching and purchasing two replacement K9s next month. Cooper and Caleb Cozens, Toyo’s handler, will work with the new dogs which will be certified in narcotics and patrol work.

Yavapai County Sheriff’s Office, Chino Valley and Prescott Police departments and the Yavapai-Prescott Indian Tribe each use K9 officers, Hines said. The Tribe’s dog is an Explosive Ordnance Disposal bomb dog.

PV Police Lt. James Gregory heads up the department’s K9 unit. He said with four K9 officers, the unit will be able to offer coverage 16 hours a day, seven days a week coverage.

“We’re excited about it,” Gregory said. He expects the certification of the two new dogs to occur by November.

How does the department decide who will be a K9 handler? First, an officer has to request the special assignment. They learn how to take care of the dog, then go through an oral board and answer a series of questions.

“We make sure they have the means to take care of a dog in their homes, make sure they have the ability to house the dog,” Gregory said. The officer goes on an eligibility list, and from there he or she is chosen when an opportunity comes up.

“As long as they are performing to expectations, performing their duties at acceptable levels, they stay in the unit,” Gregory said.

As part of their training, the K9s may ride in a patrol vehicle, but are not allowed on patrol until fully certified, he added.

“We’re about them being socialized,” Hines said, “so they can come into the station, classrooms, a retirement home, any environment, and they are just a dog saying, ‘Pet me, love me, we’re good.’”

The dogs usually arrive having been trained in bite work, the ability to engage a decoy in a fight suit and sleeve. “We are buying a special breed for a special job,” Hines said.

All K9s will be certified to do narcotics work, taking about a month for training. Training for patrol certification depends on the dog, but could take two or three additional months. The biggest issue, he said, is training the handler.