The Working Dog

My eyes are your eyes,

to watch and protect you and yours.

My ears are your ears,

to hear and detect evil minds in the dark.

My nose is your nose,

to scent the invader of your domain.

And so you may live,

my life is also yours.

Author Unknown

This week is Police Memorial Week, when we celebrate all the law enforcement personnel who gave the ultimate gift, their lives, to ensure the safety of ours.  This week is SO deserved and such an honor for the family members who are left standing dazed and heartbroken in the aftermath, as well as for the brothers and sisters in the vast law enforcement family to share in such a tribute.

We should also give a tribute to the police K9’s that have given their lives to ensure the safety of their handlers and the public.  These animals do not work for money, status or benefits, they work solely for love.  Their motivation is the handler’s happiness and the love/praise reward received. The bond that is created between the handler and the K9 is like no other.

I have been in a family with animals my entire life, dogs and cats mainly. My father was a veterinarian technician, a Chief Master Sergeant, in the United States Air Force and was part of the initial team tasked with developing the Air Force working dog program.  I learned from an early age the amazing capabilities of these dogs, their physical prowess, and the incredible drives they possess.

I was not aware, however, of the tangible and absolute bond between handler and K9, and nothing could prepare you for this. These teams work together, live together, train together and sometimes die together.  To lose your K9 partner to illness or injury is devastating.  To lose your K9 to evil or violence is unimaginable.

We train our K9 partners to track human scent, to sniff out explosives or narcotics, and to alert us to the presence of hiding suspects.  They are exposed to many volatile situations and violent encounters. They do their jobs eagerly day after day, not knowing the danger they face from so many origins.  They work alongside their handlers in heat, rain, sleet or snow.  They work in the dark, in run-down buildings, in high crime or heavy traffic areas. They keep the handler company and are ever watchful for unseen threats.

The K9 leads the way into danger without faltering and oftentimes quells the situation.  Ironically, sometimes the K9 leads itself or his handler to an unwinnable situation.  Doing their job with precision and diligence often is the downfall of the K9. How do you train for evil? How do you prepare your K9 to escape a bullet or a knife?  There is no way to prepare your K9 for every dangerous situation, just as there is no way to train yourself for every encounter.  You train your team to be proficient and you train to win.

We in law enforcement know the dangers and risks.  We know at any given moment we may lose our life, the life of our co-workers or the lives of our K9’s.  We know that we might never return to our precious families. We enter this profession by choice and by calling, completely aware of all it entails. Our K9’s do not.

A hero is defined as “a man of distinguished courage or ability, admired for his brave deeds and noble qualities”.  Valor is defined as “a strength of mind or spirit that enables a person to encounter danger with firmness”.   Love is defined as “the unselfish loyal and benevolent concern for the good of another”.  All of the fallen law enforcement professionals who have given the ultimate gift are the embodiment of all three of these traits.  They stood tall and proud, and they stood for all of us against evil and will live forever in our hearts.

What if the fallen hero is a dog instead of man? Is the courage any less distinguished?  Is the valor any less prominent? Is there still not a life for a life? I believe the police K9 falls into its own category of a hero.  It is defined by intelligence, distinguished courage or ability, valor and selflessness. The K9 brings another quality as well, which is unconditional love.  This is a concept that means showing love towards someone regardless of his or her actions or beliefs.

One of my favorite quotes by Josh Billings is “A dog is the only thing on earth that loves you more than he loves himself.”  The police K9 exemplify this quote in every way.  He or she is often the only one at your side, is fierce in his/her protection of you, will not leave you in battle and would at any moment give its own life for that of yours.

In closing, I wish to give my absolute and heartfelt thanks to the many heroes that have fallen for this nation.  They are men, women, and police service dogs, some known to me and others not, yet we are all of the same family.  Your families will stand proud knowing that the ultimate price was paid in the pursuit of righteousness and justice will prevail.

Master Deputy Charlotte Raschke has worked in law enforcement since 1988.  She started her career in detention services and worked all phases of patrol, street crimes, crime prevention, property detective and the K9 unit. Deputy Raschke has been in K9 for 13 years as a handler, working three patrol utility/narcotic dogs and a single purpose EOD dog. Charlotte is currently a K9 trainer for the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office in Tampa, FL.  She was twice awarded the Law Enforcement Officer of the Year, the Deputy of the Quarter, and four life saving awards.  Charlotte is an adjunct Instructor for St. Petersburg College’s Multi-Jurisdictional Counter Drug Task Force.