Sunday, March 18, 2007

Canine Cops

Like the diligent little scrapbooker I am, last night I carried my camera to our Sisters in Crime meeting. The program was Canine Cops, featuring Officer Pete St. James and his two partners, Bo and Lucy.

I love scrapbooking animals, and I knew I'd enjoy meeting Pete's dogs. Since I'm in charge of our local SinC programs, my first concern was getting Pete and the dogs into the library where we hold our meetings. There's a strict NO Pets policy. I'd called ahead, but you never know, right?

Pete put me at ease. "Ma'am, I wear a uniform, I carry a gun, and I have a ninety-pound German Shepherd with me. I NEVER have a problem getting into a place."

Yeah, right. I should have figured THAT one out for myself.

Pete quickly explained how his job works, "I'm not a police officer. I'm a dog driver. And if these guys could drive, I'd be out of a job! I take Lucy and Bo from point A to point B, and they do the work!"

Bo is a big, full-bred German Shepherd originally from Czechoslavakia. That's where many law enforcement agencies buy their dogs. Evidently, in our zeal to have docile pets, we've bred a lot of the aggressiveness out of German Shepherds in the US. For police work, the dogs need to be more "driven." Before the dogs can come to the US, they receive scent and obedience training in Czechoslavakia. Consequently, Bo knows Czech--and Pete uses that language as well as English in giving commands.

Lucy is much smaller. She's an anomaly among police dogs because of her "origins." A local German Shepherd rescue group called the St. Louis Police Department and suggested she'd be good at police work. They noticed her intense nature and her "prey sense." Pete explained that when training dogs for this kind of work, the handlers build on a dog's natural desire to chase and track down prey.

Lucy's a love, really. After getting Pete's permission beforehand, I came armed with a plastic bag full of dog treats. Lucy ate one gently from my fingers and sat and stared at me, begging for more. As Pete talked, the dangerous situations the dogs face became more vivid. Bo is trained to sniff out bombs. He also acts as Pete's partner just as a human would by protecting Pete against aggressors. Lucy's not trained for "bite work," but in searching out human remains, she may travel over treacherous terrain.

Quickly, we were all struck by the magnitude of the dogs' potential sacrifices for the sake of law enforcement. Finally one of our group found the courage to ask, "What if you are asked to put your dogs in harm's way? Do you? Would you?"

"We have no kamikaze dogs. I am solely responsible for the dogs' safety and welfare 24-hours a day," Pete explained. He has respectfully declined to send the dogs into situations that would put them in danger. Part of his rational is their value to the police department--they are expensive and valuable "equipment."

Another reason is that while Pete is their handler, they officially belong to St. Louis Chief of Police, Joe Mokwa, a dog-lover who backs Pete up in his decisions.

Last but not least, it's obvious Pete loves his charges. He can't say that the dogs have saved his life, but he can swear they've taken beatings in his stead and kept him out of the emergency room.

I came home thoughtful. I've known and loved many pets in my life. Losing them has been some of the worst pain I've ever felt. But what if my life depended on them? How much harder would it be to see them hurt? Or in danger? How difficult would it be to make decisions that could cost them their lives?

You can meet Pete and his canine partners. They've been invited to make a presentation at Sisters in Crime's Forensic University, Nov. 1-4, 2007 :

or for updated information about programs & faculty, go to :


Monica Ferris said...

I understand another reason K-9 officials don't like US-bred German Shepherds is that for show purposes they've bred a "slope" into the animals that makes them unfit for jumping or climbing duty. Next time you see a photograph or video of a show-quality shepherd note the way his hindquarters are so much lower than his forequarters that he appears to be "frog walking." I saw one at an agility trial and the dog couldn't climb the A-frame because of the distortion. A shame!

Linda O. Johnston said...

As an inveterate animal lover and mystery writer, I've also seen a couple of K-9 cop demonstrations and am always amazed at how obedient and intelligent the dogs are. Another breed that's often imported to the U.S. by police is the German Malinois. Great topic, Joanna!