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IN THE PRESS > New 4-legged Redmond officer is "crazy to work"

6 Dec 2008


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One of Redmond's newest officers is a German immigrant with pointy ears.

He also has four legs.

Meet Vader, a gregariously energetic, 70-pound black German shepherd, and the Redmond Police Department's new K9.

He's been working the streets since he finished training in the spring with his human partner, Officer Sam Hovenden, tracking down suspects, sniffing out drugs, searching buildings and generally making life tough for bad guys.

In November 2007, Hovenden's first police dog, Monty, also a German shepherd, died from cancer.

"It was very, very difficult" to lose him, Hovenden said.

Working police dogs often live at home, and Monty had become part of the family.

"For six-and-a-half years, you have somebody with you nonstop," Hovenden said. "I spent more time with him than I did my wife and kids."

The two were considered such a team, his 5-year-old son asked him, "Dad, are you still a cop?"

Hovenden still was, of course, but he needed a new partner. That's when he found Vader, a 3-year-old purebred German shepherd born and raised in Germany.

The two clicked right away and began training together. Vader had received basic police-dog training in Germany, and he was a quick study.

The pair went on to finish narcotics-search school in August. But while he has the raw ability, Vader is still learning during his crucial first year on the job. Hovenden spends at least eight hours a week cross-training Vader in patrol and drug tracking.

Because Vader's sense of smell is superior to that of a human, he's a scent-hunting machine.

"He's a tool, and to keep this tool sharp and on his A-game, he has to train," Hovenden said. So far, that training has resulted in several drug busts, including a pound of marijuana last month.

"These dogs were bred to track," Hovenden said. "We're not doing anything fancy or anything new. We're just training them for our environment, for our world."

In addition to tracking down drugs, Vader enjoys tracking down people. To him, it's a sort of game, and the goal is to please Hovenden, the head of his pack.

Vader's aggression is a behavior whose control relies on verbal and nonverbal commands.

The former are given in German, Vader's first language, and also in English.

"For them, it's not personal," Hovenden said of such dogs, unless he finds himself in trouble. Then "it's personal when 'Dad's' getting hurt or he's coming to 'Dad's' aid ... "

So far, Vader loves his job, something he was bred to do. "When I get ready for the day, and he sees me in my jumpsuit, he goes crazy," pacing and barking, Hovenden said. "He's crazy to work."

Hovenden and Vader work as a team with other officers, and some of the job includes clearing buildings or chasing suspects through open fields, using little more than the last known location of a suspect and the pair's instincts.

"You have to learn to trust your dog implicitly," Hovenden said. "I can't find bad guys without him, and he can't find them without me."

Still, there's a joke shared among K9 officers, Hovenden said: "We're the two-legged anchor behind the dog."

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