ST. GEORGE — After losing K-9 Officer Rossko to a medical condition in August 2016, the St. George Police Department welcomed a new K-9 officer to its police force this week.
Police K-9 Officer Emma, a 2-year-old Labrador retriever, is the police department’s newest recruit. Following two months of training and subsequently becoming certified by the state of Utah, Officer Emma reported for duty Tuesday for her first official day on the job.
Emma, who came from Pacific Coast K-9 in Washington State, will serve alongside her partner, Officer Joe Watson, as a single-purpose narcotics detection dog.
It took Watson – who’s been working as a police officer for 10 years and as a K-9 handler for 2 years – approximately eight weeks of training to become certified to train Emma.
“She’s been training with me since the beginning of November, so just under two months,” Watson said. “She’s progressed, actually, quite quickly. Normally, it takes about eight weeks for a full training.”
Watson has trained Emma to locate four main narcotics, including cocaine, heroin, meth and marijuana. Emma is trained as a passive indicating dog – meaning when she detects the smell of drugs, she will sit or lie down beside the source of the odor.
After constant repetition during training, the dogs soon recognize and understand that when they find these odors, they get their toy. The dogs only get to see their favorite toy – in Emma’s case, a ball – while training and working, so their toy becomes a novelty that they really want.
“It’s very time consuming,” Watson said. “It’ll wear you out at the end of the day, playing with a dog all day long, but it’s very rewarding to see her succeed.”
Watson said he was “ecstatic” to see how well Emma did Monday during her testing, as well as to finally see her with her paws on the ground out helping the community.
“She loves to play a lot, which in this sense, when she’s looking for narcotics, it’s this big game of hide and seek to her, so she loves to do her job,” Watson said.
“Every time I go outside, she’s excited to get in the car because she knows that she’s going to go play with her ball and go have some fun.”
In fact, Watson said Emma gets so excited when she detects the odor of narcotics that she had to have her tail surgically removed after injuring it while wagging it excessively.
“Unfortunately, she had a ‘happy tail’ and kept cutting her tail open severely, so we ended up having to take her tail,” he said, “but it doesn’t affect her at all. She’s still excited to work, and she does her job really well.”
Whether at work or at play, Emma isn’t trained to bite and won’t be used by the department for suspect apprehension or patrol work, making her job relatively safe.
“As you can see, she’s more of a lover than she is a fighter,” Watson said. “I make sure that anytime I deploy her in a situation, I go in first before I bring her in to make sure that it is safe.”
K-9 Emma was brought to the department to take the place of Police K-9 Officer Rossko – a 5-year-old German shepherd that died following an emergency surgery for gastric dilation volvulus, a twisting of the stomach that causes severe damage to a dog’s internal organs.
While Rossko’s large size and intimidation factor was a plus, Labradors are a lot less prone to medical conditions like Rossko’s, Watson said, adding that Emma is also more agile and athletic than Rossko and that he doesn’t have to worry about her getting upset and biting anyone.
Watson said having the opportunity to work with the K-9 officers makes his job more enjoyable.
“When I became a police officer, it was initially my goal to be a K-9 handler,” Watson said. “It’s something I’ve worked for, something I’ve always wanted and something, personally, I enjoy. I don’t see that there’s any better place to be in the department right now than working with dogs. It’s very rewarding. It takes a lot of patience, but it’s a very rewarding job to have.”
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