By Kat Halfman
GREEN BAY – The Green Bay Police Department (GBPD) employs around 200 officers – five of those have four legs and a tail.
The department’s canine unit started in 1986 with a single dog and handler – slowly becoming an integral part of the force.
Since the program’s inception, the police department has utilized 26 dogs – Neo, Echo, Senna, Pocket, Cliff, Cops, George, Vilac, Feit, Yukon, Irk, Expo, Jack, Hans, Zarro, Kili, Buddy, Doobie, Lobo, Basco and Smoke; and the five currently active dual-purpose K-9s Pyro, Puma, Drago, Roco and Bose.
Officer Tom Conley, Puma’s handler, said dual-purpose means a K-9 is capable of working as a patrol dog and as a detection dog.
“Our dogs either search for narcotics, be it in buildings, in vehicles, or out in the open area,” Conley said. “So they do narcotics that way, but they also do article searches… So say somebody does a crime, runs, throws a knife, throws a gun, throws something, we can send our dogs out in a specific area to go look for that item, and they’re not specifically looking for a gun, they’re looking for human odor on that gun.”
He said they also track.
“(Say) somebody runs from a traffic stop or a house or from us, the dog tracks the scent on the ground to ideally, hopefully lead to where that person last was,” Conley said. “We lose track if they get into a car, get into a house or some anomaly happens, but ideally, we find them every time.”
He said K-9s and handlers make great teams.
“If I can’t put my hands on you and the dog can access you, he will physically hold onto you until we can come up there and put our hands on you,” Conley said.
The GBPD currently recruits its dogs from K-9 Elite in Pulaski.
Conley said dogs are selected based on their potential compatibility with handlers and their selection test, which takes into account prey drive, hunting drive and fight drive.
He said K-9s can be either male or female, but all of the dogs currently on the GBPD are male, because their larger size makes them more effective in the field.
Conley said dogs are adopted when they are anywhere from 14 months to two years old, and perform a wide variety of tasks.
Most of the training and equipment provided for K-9s and their handlers takes place through Bark N’ Blue, a foundation that provides funding and resources for K-9 units through donations.
He said K-9s can work anywhere from 3-14 years, depending on their health.
When it’s time for a dog to retire, Conley said their handler gets first dibs due to the bond they form.
If they are unable to, other K-9 handlers at the station are given the opportunity to adopt the dog.
Here’s a closer look at each of GBPD’s active K-9s.
Puma is a six-year-old purebred German Shepherd who came to the police department from the Schutzhund sport, which is German for “protection dog,” so he has a strong training background in strict control and biting.
Puma works alongside handler Conley, who said he has a no-nonsense personality with a focus on work and little interest in socializing or playing.
“Puma is all work,” Conley said. “He doesn’t really care about being touched or petted or having much social contact unless it’s me or my immediate family, otherwise everybody else he’s just like, ‘Leave me alone, I want to go work. I want to go find, I want to go chase.’”
Conley said Puma has successfully hunted down suspects on the run, proving his worth to the department.
The pair perform sweeps for explosives at Lambeau Field, and are also on call for presidential visits.
Pyro is a six-year-old Belgian Malinois who works alongside Officer Scott Salzmann.
Pyro is described as a friendly dog, friendly to the point where he might knock you to the ground in his enthusiasm to socialize.
Conley said Pyro was stabbed multiple times while on duty April 17, 2019, after chasing down an individual who was being pursued by police.
He said as soon as the suspect was taken into custody, Pyro was rushed to the veterinary hospital.
Since Pyro’s incident, Conley said K-9 handlers have expanded on their training for emergency medical treatment for the dogs in order to be better prepared for the worst.
Officer Rodney Reetz works alongside Bose, a six-year-old German Shepherd.
Bose’s personality is similar to Pyro’s in that he is a social and friendly dog, who Conely said has successfully located both narcotics and suspects on the run.
Bose, Conley said, didn’t come from a Schutzhund background and came to the station with little bite training, and had to undergo further training to become confident.
Drago, a six-year-old German Shepherd-Belgian Malinois mix, Conley said shares Puma’s no-nonsense attitude.
Working alongside Officer Jeff Brann, Drago has located suspects and narcotics, proving his worth to the department.
He also needed further bite training when he first arrived.
Roco is a six-year-old German Shepherd-Belgian Malinois mix with a sociable and friendly personality.
Roco came to the station with little bite training, but has become a confident K-9 through further training with his handler, Officer Taylor Clark.
Roco has successfully located both suspects and narcotics.
“Roco, Pyro and Bose are pretty sociable,” Conley said. “You potentially might get hurt by them because they might smash into you saying, ‘Touch me, pet me, love me,’ but they’re also capable of doing the work.”
Conley said it’s hard to describe how it feels to work alongside a K-9 – a dog that he knows would give his life to protect and save him at any moment – calling their bond “indescribable.”
“The bond is huge,” he said. “Everybody in general understands their dog, their pet and what it means to you to lose them, but this dog and this bond is completely different. I trust (Puma) with my life. I know if somebody comes after me or tries to assault me or hurt me, that he’s going to do whatever he can to protect me if he can get out of the car. If he’s with me, pretty much no matter what, he’s going to make sure he’s in between me and whatever is trying to hurt me, or fellow officers. I can’t really explain it.”
Conley said even with the constant training, rituals and repetition that are required to maintain strict control over the K-9, being a handler is one of the best jobs on the force.