There I was, sitting in JFK Airport, waiting for my new police partner flying in from Czechoslavakia. He had flown into Canada, switched planes and now into JFK. My anxiety had been at a lifelong high for a couple of weeks waiting , but today was the day I get to meet him and I thought I was prepared. I was sitting there with four other police officers and the conversation was completely about what this new guy was going to be like and it was getting me nervous about what to expect.
The baggage claim conveyor started, and there comes the crate. The crate was about three feet wide, four feet long and about three feet high and all you could see inside was black fur. One of the guys walked over and got the crate from the conveyor, struggling to pick it up. He set it on the floor in the middle of the baggage area and opened the door. Oh my god!!! What have I gotten myself into? He came out of that crate and what seemed like eternity kept coming and coming and coming out . I thought they had flown in a damn black bear. Here he was, 120 pounds of black Belgium Sheppard that I knew was aggression trained and by the looks he could have taken down everyone in sight . He came out of the crate, took a step and looked around as the baggage area was immediately clearing out. I have no idea how that dog knew , but without any hesitation at all, walked up to me and put his head against my leg and stood there for me to pet him. My anxiety had turned directly to fear as soon as the crate door opened, but for some reason I felt secure at this point and realized that I had a new best friend. Little did I realize what a great friend, partner, protector of me and my family that I had just met. This day had changed my life completely, and to this day I look back and and see what I would have missed without him being in it, and thank the Lord I got to have him as a part of my life (which could have been a lot shorter if not for him).
We were going through training with a couple of police dog trainers from Florida and had a patrol car assigned to us. We were on our way home two days after we started our training and were passing by a grocery store that had been set on fire, so we stopped. We were not supposed to be on duty until the training was completed, but one of the detectives said “Hey lets see if he is any good”. Taking this as a challenge I couldn’t resist the opportunity. Aris got out of the car, walked up to the scene, and as soon as I gave him his command , put his nose to the ground and began a track of the arsonist. We went through the woods about 1000 yards and went to the front steps of a residence. –The detective knocked on the door and a young boy opened it . All the detective had to ask was who did it and the boy immediately told on his cousin in the next room. The look on that boys face trying to figure out how we knew where they were! This was the first of many incidents where He showed everyone what an asset he was to me, the department and the community.
We did many public relations events, speeches and demonstrations. We went to child day cares so the children could meet and play with him. We did foot posts through the shopping centers where the store owners kept biscuits for him. The children he had met would come up to pet him on the foot posts (while the parents thinking the worst, not realizing that the children knew him, would panic).
Aris was vehicle aggression trained , which means he would appear to get viscous upon someone other than me approaching the car. One time at a demonstration, I had put him in the car and walked away. It was a hot day so I had left the window down about three inches for him to get some air. One of the children unnoticed by me had gone to the car and stuck his arm in the window to pet Aris. Aris had done his vehicle aggression but stopped immediately when the childs arm appeared. I knew that he would never harm a child, but I still panicked. Aris just calmed down and let the child pet him.
People were nervous around him, not realizing that although he was highly trained and did have protection training that he was still a regular dog. He loved children , especially if they weren’t afraid and wanted to play. We were asked for a demo at a local park where there were probably 50 children playing in a field. Not thinking about the caretakers reaction, I opened the car door and gave him the command to go play. I looked over at the teachers group and saw hands over mouths, and one bunch of frightened people. After they watched him running back and forth in the group of children, they seemed to relax a bit. When I got to them, one of the teachers, with a smile on her face, asked me if that was really a police k9. I just laughed and had to go through the whole explanation that he was just a highly trained dog, probably just like they had at home. When we did our talk and everyone was gathered around, I explained that he was trained to protect me. I had planted a bad guy in the crowd, who at this point stepped out and came at me very aggressively. Aris ignored everyone else in the crowd and within a split second he was taking the bad guy to the ground. I called him out and he came over to me where I told him it was okay and he went back to the regular dog, actually letting the bad guy pet him. He was never aggressive until he saw me in danger or was in a search where aggression was needed. He did use his aggression several times in his career, but was fully justified when it was used.
One time we were arresting a bad guy, walking him to the police car. He was in handcuffs walking on the side of Aris and me, and without any warning the bad guy turned towards me and started to knee me in the groin. The guys foot was less than an inch off the ground and aris was on him. Technically this was probably a bad bite, but he was protecting me exactly the way he was supposed to. 30 stitches in his left arm.
Aris was trained in many different areas and excelled in each one. He was an excellent tracking dog and could follow a scent 4 or 5 hours old. This is where he earned his medals for excellent Police Duty, Exemplary Police Duty, lifesaver medals, etc. He tracked a woman that was taken to the hospital suicidal, and gotten away. He tracked her for probably three miles, where I radioed ahead and had an officer waiting for her to come out of the woods. Talking to the woman afterwards, she explained that she had full intentions of ending her life if she had gotten away. We had gotten a call to a nearby town where another woman had slit her wrists, ran out of a house and disappeared into the night. When we got there, the scene was a mess for a tracker dog. Police and neighbors had been all over the area completely ruining any chance of us locating a track. One must remember that shepards are trained to follow the freshest scent, and we would have been hours following Police trails all over the neighbor hood. This woman was going to die if we didn’t do something. I knew how bloodhounds tracked and I was willing to try anything. I went into the house and grabbed a worn shirt from her clothes pile and took it outside. I took the shirt and rubbed it in Aris nose, giving him the track command, Sook,sook and off we went. I had no idea if he knew what he was tracking, we had never done anything like this before. We tracked for about three blocks and Aris walked right up to this lady sitting on the side of the road. He had saved her life. I have told this story to Police k9 Officers and got the impression that no one believed me. But this is a true story, and still today I don’t know how he knew what he was doing. Another time we were called to track a suspect from a car chase where he had run off. We tracked for about a half mile where we came to spot in the woods where it looked like he had changed direction. I told Aris to stop and go the way I thought we should go. I screwed up, as usual he was right and I was the one that made the mistake and the guy got away. As I look back at our career together, I was the one that made the mistakes, not him. A lesson learned, taught by a dog.
There were times he did unexplainable things that I just didn’t realize why or how he knew what was about to happen. We got a call for a barricaded teenager in a residence. I asked the roommate if the person had any weapons with him and he told me no way. I gave aris the blibe command to stay and not move. Any other time he would have sat and not moved, but not this time. As soon as I kicked in the door, Aris was off like a shot, into the room and around the corner where the person was. When I got into the room, the guy was sitting in a chair, his face pure white, scared to death because Aris was sitting on the floor, his head at the guys crotch, barking and salivating, with his nose against the 22 rifle across the guys lap. This was one of the several times I credit Aris for keeping me from getting really badlv injured or killed.
My mentor, Jimmy Vincent (his dog was Nero) was a k-9 handler for many years before I met him and seemed to know everything about k9s and how to train them. You could ask him anything about these dogs and he knew the answer. I have the utmost thanks for the things he taught me and Bubba. Without his willingness to share his knowledge, Bubba and me as a team would have been a disaster. But, we weren’t, thanks to him and the whole Hudson Valley Police K9 group. We would train weekly at each members area, and I saw my dog do some amazing things. The biggest problem I had was learning to trust my dog to not make mistakes. Jimmy used to get on me constantly about it. It was hard to comprehend that the dog was always right, and listen to and watch him. Thinking back at my whole time as a handler, I was the one making the mistakes, not him. One time we were training in building searches and we were in a cardboard storage warehouse and trying high hides on top of the cardboard stacks. Patsy Perotta from Yorktown was gonna hide for me and went up about 6 bales of cardboard to hide. The cardboard was stacked in a way he had to climb to get to the top of the stack and he got very comfortable thinking the dog couldn’t get to him, so he laid the bite sleeve down and relaxed. When Bubba started his search he went directly to the bottom of the stack in a dead run and before Patsy could react, that dog was face to face with him. The look on his face was priceless when he realized that 120 pound dog had gotten to him, up those bales, and arresting him on top of those bales. I called Bubba off and kept Patsy safe. It just sticks in my mind watching Patsy on top of those bales scrambling to get the bite sleeve on, screaming for me to call Bubba off and the whole group hysterically laughing. (just a note, as a K-9 handler, you will get bit, and when you do its your fault) There were alot of fun things, funny things, serious things and things that we did to help people of the community. We were on patrol one day and came upon a woman on the side of the road apparently searching for something. Her car had broken down and been towed. When she left the car on the side of the road for the tow truck, she had put her keys on top of a front tire. The tow truck came and took the car without taking the keys. She was in a panic explaining that was her only set of keys and they were the ones with a chip that were really expensive. She would probably not have found them as they were not right where she was looking and they had been covered with leaves. I had her stand back and got Aris out to search. In about a minute, he had pushed the leaves aside and was laying down with the keys between his front paws. Usually after a successful search, the handler highly praises the dog( that’s why these dogs do what they do is for praise) but this was one instance I didn’t get the chance, as this woman was on her knees, petting, hugging and thanking him. That got him a good guy letter from the chief. I realize I am rambling and going incident to incident, but I am sitting here just writing things as I remember them, so please bear with me, as this was all many years ago.
Bubba was different than a lot of police k9s. Most dogs do their job because they were trained to do their job and are very good at it. Bubba did his job because that was what I wanted him to do. After he did anything, he would look at me with that look in his eyes, asking me if he did right, looking for my approval. He would sit and tip his head back and forth waiting for my acceptance. This was one of the things this dog did that made him unforgettable. He worked to make me happy! He didn’t like aggression, but didn’t hesitate when it was needed, and did it. If he did need to bite, I could call him off and tell him “ say hello” and he would be at the bad guy wanting to be pet. Naturally after aggression, he would automatically go to his arrest mode until I told him different so on the street this is what would happen. Don’t get me wrong, he did what was supposed to do without any hesitation. I remember stopping a car on a deserted back road for no taillights, which was not a major crime, so I was prepared only to tell the operator to get them fixed. When I approached the car, the driver immediately became aggressive for me stopping him. He stepped out of his car with the passenger and walked up to me bumping his chest against mine, telling me he was not getting a ticket. He kept pushing me back, not realizing that I had a remote in my pocket to open the back door of the patrol car letting the dog out. He thought he was safe as the dog was now jumping around barking trying to get out to help me. I warned him to get back in his car but he ignored the warning and kept yelling and pushing me. I hesitated pushing the button because I knew what was about to happen. I pushed it. Bubba came out of that car with fury in his eyes ready to take this guy out. He saw the dog coming and backed off. As he was supposed to, Bubba ran to my side and waited for his next command. At this point they knew what came next and got back into the car. Bubba and I went back to the patrol car and wrote several tickets.
I mentioned before about trusting the dog. We were called to a burglar alarm at a motorcycle shop and searching around the building. Burglar alarms are very common and I became less alert as we walked. Nothing appeared unordinary, no apparent signs of a break in. When we investigated like this Aris was on leash next to me as my protection. I was convinced this was another false alarm and was ready to go back to the car. Aris knew something wasn’t right and kept looking to the edge of the woods. Again I thought he was imagining things and didn’t really pay him any attention. Jimmy’s words rang in my head” trust your dog”. We had nothing going on so I said okay Bubba lets see. That dog went straight to the treeline and arrested the guy hiding behind a tree. Bubbas arrest procedure was to locate, sit down in front of the perp, bark and not let the person get away. At that point he would do what was necessary to keep the person there and wait for me. In the end, Detectives were called and found where he had actually tried to break in and arrested him for attempted burglary.
Bubba loved traffic cones as his toys. He would take them and toss them in the air and play fight with them when he caught him. It actually was pretty funny to watch. One night shift we were on patrol and I stopped at a construction site so he could get out , stretch and go to the bathroom. I stayed in the car reading the paper and didn’t pay much attention to what he was doing. I did feel the car bouncing when he jumped in and out so I knew he was still right there with me. I finished reading the paper and got out to let him in and close his door. I couldn’t believe what I saw next. The whole back of my patrol car was filled with traffic cones he had stolen and put in the car. He looked a little depressed when I took them all out of the car.
Jimmy used to tell me all the time (although I really think he said it because he was supposed to, not that he could follow it) “ Don’t get too attached to your dog, he is a tool, a piece of equipment like your gun and nightstick. To spend every waking moment with that dog for years and years and not get attached emotionally is impossible, and I am sure that 99 percent of k9 handlers would tell you that, if being honest. You sleep with this dog, when you go out he goes with you, he goes to work with you every day where its you and him for 8 or sometimes 16 hours a day. His main job is your protection which he would do if it meant his life. He saved lives, very possibly saved mine several times, protected your family, listened very intently as you discussed life issues with him. If you go out for dinner, he goes too and lays under the table as you eat. These dogs become life partners and stay that way even after they pass. When Bubba passed it left a hole in my heart that could never be filled or patched. I still have dreams about him at least two or three times a week. I still go to my back yard and talk to him where he is buried. I probably need therapy for this because he has been gone for almost twenty years. But I will never forget him, always love him, or not be thankful for the time we spent together.