HURRICANE — The Hurricane City Police Department has bid farewell to Paige, the first K-9 on the force.
Paige, a Belgium Malinois, was just 3 years old when she became a member of the department in 2014, Hurricane City Police Chief Lynn Excell told St. George News.
Because she was their inaugural K-9 officer, there was a significant learning curve with training, especially as the department worked to develop the program. Both the Cedar City Police Department and Kane County Sheriff’s Office assisted in the program’s development as well as Hurricane Police Officer Jayson Despain, Paige’s handler.
“Officer Despain — being our first handler — he made the program work here in Hurricane,” Excell said. “He was able to go through the trainings and do the right things. He was very effective.”
Paige was largely trained for narcotic detection and criminal apprehension, though the department did use her a few times on armed robberies, Excell said. Throughout her entire career, Paige consistently performed and never bit anybody.
“Every time we ever deployed her for a patrol incident, the suspects always gave up and were willing to go into custody,” Excell said.
One of Paige’s major traits that set her apart from other K-9 officers was her ability to switch from her role as a police dog to being an approachable member of the force. They were comfortable taking Paige into schools and different settings as long as she was with Despain.
“Paige could be one way when necessary, but you could take Paige around people as long as the handler was there. Paige was good around people,” he said. “She had a very good disposition.”
She was also excellent at narcotics detection and assisted in many incidents. From 2018 to 2020, Officer Ken Thompson said Paige had 406 deployments and assisted in 182 arrests.
But it’s not the dog alone doing the work; success is a team effort between the K-9 and the handler.
“Our dogs are what they call ‘passive indicators,'” Excell said. “You’ll see on TV where dogs go up and scratch and bark when they find something. Our dogs are passive indicators, so when they see drugs or smell drugs, they don’t go up and scratch or dig or do stuff like that.”
Because the dogs are passive indicators, the handler has to be attuned to how the dog will indicate. They have to work together.
Excell said having K-9 officers has been a true asset to their department. They are also easy to compensate.
“When they’re done, you know, you throw a ball or use a tug rope, and they’re just as excited as heck.”
After nearly six years of service, Paige began to suffer from arthritis, and the department had to make the difficult decision of letting her go.
“The last I would ever want is for a K-9 of ours to get hurt or injured,” Excell said.
The police department honored Paige at a recent Hurricane City Council meeting, which evoked a tearful goodbye. For the department, Paige was considered family.
“She’s been there for us. She’s given everything. And it’s sad, really, to me, it’s a very emotional time to do that because that last call is the same thing we do when a person either retires or for some reason passes away in the line of duty.”
In the case of a K-9 officer retiring, the very best thing is for the dog to end up with the handler.
“Because if you were to take the dog away from the handler, you couldn’t really adopt it out to another person unless they understood and had the capability to handle a dog that’s trained that way,” Excell said. “The last thing in the world I’d want that dog to go to is a rescue. Every type of agency we’ve talked to in the past, it always goes back to the handler if they want it.”
Because Paige was technically government property, she couldn’t just be given away. Government property has to be sold.
With the help of Fay Reber, the city attorney, Excell said they drafted an agreement that released the city from liability and responsibility. The agreement explains that Paige was trained as a police dog, which means she has certain skills and certain ways she’s trained to respond.
After that, Despain was able to purchase Paige.
“I know she’s going to be so well cared for by Jayson and his family,” Excell said. “And that’s great, and I’m glad for that, but it’s still like losing a family member.”
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