COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) — Each week, the Columbia Police Department’s K-9 Unit reports for training day at the Central Missouri Events Center, where open fields and simulated apartments await eager four-legged officers ready for a hard day of work.
The Columbia Missourian reports that Raf, an 8-year-old German shepherd, is the veteran of the bunch, although you wouldn’t know it at first glance. The dog eagerly tugs on the leash as Officer Michael Parsons leads him from the patrol car. Parsons says that while the training is serious work, it feels a lot like playtime for Raf. The dog’s wagging tail confirms that.
A simulated apartment with a large window stands inside the former fairground’s multipurpose room. It has all the trappings of a typical apartment, including shelves, a couch and a television.
This is one of the areas where the K-9 Unit, which works on the front lines of crimes and investigations, trains. Officer Kevin Purdy starts by hiding a package containing heroin about the size of a beanbag. After a short wait to let strong odors die down, Parsons sets Raf loose inside. He sniffs and pants, occasionally stopping to look back at the two-legged officers for affirmation.
After a few more sniffs and one more stop, Raf finds the package. As a reward, Parsons offers a rubber cylinder called a “pipe” — one of Raf’s toys — to play tug of war with. Although the team has gone through the routine many times over the past six years, they are still excited about completing the task.
With teamwork, one principle rings true: Chemistry determines success.
Parsons and Raf embody this principle. The duo has been working together since 2011 and had to figure each other out along the way.
“When we started on May 2 of (20)11, we were a couple of idiots,” Parsons said.
The pair spent the first nine weeks after Raf arrived in Columbia going over the basics. Learning simple commands and fulfilling the everyday duties of a K-9 officer proved challenging at first, but over the years, Parsons and Raf grew together. Squirrels and other dogs still can distract Raf at times while on duty, but the two have developed mutual trust.
“Thinking back to then and knowing where we are now, it’s truly amazing,” Parsons said.
After six years of service, however, Raf is scheduled to retire around the middle of this year.
Police dogs can work until age 9, at which point the police department gives the dogs over to their handlers. Raf turns 9 in December, and the Columbia City Council has set aside $16,435 to buy a new dog and kennel. A staff report to the council said Raf has begun to have hip problems, but Parsons says that isn’t an issue.
While Raf and Parsons have shared a dog’s lifetime worth of memories, Parsons said Raf might not be completely ready to give up the job.
“He’s still got too much spirit in him to just go off into the sunset,” Parsons said.
The K-9 Unit’s most common tasks are searching buildings, searching for drugs and tracking suspects. Trust is mandatory to success and having a partner who depends on the other for food and shelter helps establish it.
“It makes our bond stronger because he’s always looking to me for direction, food and comfort,” Parsons said.
That trust is a two-way street. Raf trusts Parsons to provide the necessities, and Parsons depends on Raf to do his job effectively. Regardless of the situation, Parsons trusts Raf to display the right temperament and be professional.
“I can take him to do demos for my kids’ classes with 30 kids running around, hooting and hollering,” Parsons said. “When I need him to spark off and be the big dog, he can do that. When I need him to be chill and relaxed, he can do that, too.”
These days, Raf and Parsons go through weekly training sessions with few hiccups. They’ve been on the job long enough to be considered veterans, and Parsons says their chemistry makes his job much easier.
Raf doesn’t act like a dog ready to retire. He still spins around and lets out anxious barks on car rides back to the training facility after his break. Parsons cherishes the experiences he’s shared with Raf.
“I was a patrolman for years. I got to work with detectives on high-profile cases, I was on the SWAT team for five-and-a-half years, I was a sniper, I was the one throwing flash bangs into buildings,” Parsons said. “But working with Raf is where it’s at. It’s the most rewarding.”
Information from: Columbia Missourian, http://www.columbiamissourian.com