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Crime & Courts

Police dogs like to play ruff

Published:   |   Updated: March 7, 2013 at 04:28 PM

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Deputy Jeff Andrews runs away from the German shepherd, shooting a cap gun that looks like a revolver. The dog runs full speed, snarling and slobbering, and jumps on Andrews' protected arm, teeth first.

"Stop fighting my dog!" Deputy Jason Jernigan yells to Dzel, pronounced "diesel," then praises the about-80-pound dog.

"They do it for the fun, the baby talk," K-9 Sgt. Tim Bammert said of the dogs.

To them, it's "one big toy game," he said.

But the four Hernando County K-9 dogs — Ike, Dzel, Dar-i and Kilo — know the difference, and react differently, when tracking a fugitive or a missing person. Bammert and the K-9 deputies agreed their dogs know the difference between biting a decoy in a suit and a real perpetrator.

He said that when a dog bites a person for the first time, they initially let go a bit, surprised at the different texture of real flesh from a protective sleeve or suit.

The sheriff's office has four K-9 dogs. Their handlers, Deputies Brandon Cox, Jason Jernigan, Stephen Miller and John Gore, wear baseball caps with their own names embroidered on one side of the brim, and their dog's name on the other. Where the dogs go off duty is a constant question — the deputies take them home.

Bammert explained the unit has four male dogs because, in his experience, female dogs are "too protective of their handlers, and once they go over the edge you can't get them back."

The dogs are bilingual, and the handlers use many German commands to avoid confusion between the commands a deputy gives to his dog and to the individual being apprehended.

Bammert said that Kilo was shot about two years ago on a call, with a bullet hitting his face and back, just above the end of his bulletproof vest. Bammert said dogs in similar situations might show more aggression or run away from gun shots, but Kilo was back at work in a week.

Bammert explained that the dogs are only released in necessary felony situations, and a bite usually warrants a few stitches.

The dogs serve an average of eight or nine years on the job, and deputies joining the unit must sign on for four years because of the difficulty in transferring a dog to a different handler.

One of the biggest misconceptions, Bammert said, is the classic movie situation of a fugitive jumping in the water to wash away the scent trail.

"The scent stays on top of the water," Bammert said. "And the dogs can swim and bite at the same time." (352) 544-5283

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