Standard-Examiner Davis Bureau
Sun, 05/29/2011 – 10:30pm
Nitro, a Belgian Malinois, joined the Davis County Sheriff’s Office at the end of March. He weighs between 105 pounds and 110 pounds, while the other members of the sheriff’s dog team are at least 25 pounds lighter.
But the 16-month-old dog is not overweight.
Nitro “has the best potential out of all of the dogs,” said Davis County Sheriff’s Deputy Jeremy Varela. “He’s just unbelievable.”
Nitro came to the sheriff’s office from K9 Working Dogs International in Kansas. He cost about $12,500, and the funds came from two grants the county received.
Nitro recently received his narcotics certification. His handler, Davis County Sheriff’s Deputy Bryson Westbrook, said he hopes to have Nitro patrol-certified soon, which means Nitro will be able to help apprehend suspects who either try to run from or attack officers.
Nitro, and the other four police dogs — Jak, Mojo, Dax and Clyde — train together once a week.
To the dogs, the officers who put on the suits or the protective arm gear are nothing more “than a big toy they get to bite,” Varela said.
The once-a-week training allows the handlers to work together and give each other pointers to make their dog the best, but it also allows the dogs to work together.
In one session, Westbrook commanded Nitro to lay down, then told him to wait after Nitro saw Deputy Seth Dereta put on the protective arm gear.
“Suspect, do not move or my dog will bite you,” Westbrook said.
At first, Dereta stood still while Westbrook searched him, but then Dereta ran. Nitro quickly took off at what looked like a gallop, then jumped at Dereta and knocked him down. He then clamped his jaws on the arm sleeve. After what looked like a tug-of-war game, Westbrook finally told Nitro to let go.
The dogs get training every day, whether at their homes or while at work, the deputies said. The training can involve something simple, like chasing a tennis ball, or sniffing out drugs in a car pulled over on Interstate 15.
With a simple command, Nitro’s bark can sound as if he wants to rip a person apart, but at the same time, his tail may wag as if he’s the happiest dog in town.
Almost as fast as Nitro begins to bark, he can stop barking at the command of Westbrook.
Westbrook, like Nitro, is a new member of the K-9 team. He joined the sheriff’s office 2 1/2 years ago and said as he watched the other four dogs work, he decided he wanted to be a K-9 officer.
“I like getting drugs off the street, and it’s so much easier with these dogs,” Westbrook said.
Two weeks ago Nitro landed his first big drug bust.
Officers were called to a home where a suspected parole fugitive was staying. When they got inside the house, they noticed evidence of illegal narcotics on a table. The officers asked for a police dog, and Nitro came with Westbrook.
Nitro stopped at a bedroom door, which enabled the officers to get a search warrant.
Inside they found heroin, methamphetamine, pills, marijuana and bath salts, which landed the residents of the home in jail.
“I’ve learned to never doubt your dog,” Westbrook said.