Vail: Friendly, furry, with nose for police work |

Vail: Friendly, furry, with nose for police work

Theo Stroomer/Vail DailyOfficer Ryan Millbern says that unlike many K-9 dogs, Star is very calm while she rides with him and will sometimes even fall asleep in the back seat.

VAIL, Colorado ” Star lay on the floor of the briefing room as Sgt. Samantha Graves reviewed for the night-shift officers. the day’s events ” or lack thereof, considering mud season was in full swing.

Star, a Belgian Malinois-German shepherd mix, stared up at her handler, K-9 Officer Ryan Millbern, as he listened to the briefing. When it was over, they headed to their police car for their nightly patrol. Millbern opened the back door, Star jumped in and they set off on the streets of Vail.

Millbern and Star have been working together for the Vail police since December, when Star was adopted from North Carolina. Dogs like Star can really help the police do their job, Millbern said.

“To me, they’re such a valuable tool and can do work for police that we can’t do,” he said.

Take, for instance, this story related by Millbern: A few weeks ago, a man got into a fight with a woman in East Vail. The man ended up throwing the woman’s keys into a random snowbank along the side of the road.

Star followed the keys’ scent to find them.

“Without Star, we would never have been able to do that,” Millbern said. “She found the keys within five minutes.”

Then there were two young children who were in a rollover accident this winter. When they were taken back to the police station after the wreck, they were really scared. But they were calmed when they started to play with Star.

The department made sure its K-9 wasn’t a scary, intimidating dog, but rather one that was friendly and approachable, Millbern said.

“It’s kind of the way the Saabs (patrol cars) were in the past ” conversations starters with people from out of town,” Millbern said. “People want to pet her, know what her name is.”

Other people are, perhaps, less happy to see Star. She has already sent eight people to jail after finding drugs ” the dog is trained to detect marijuana, cocaine, methamphetamines and heroine.

Star can also track down fleeing suspects, using her sensitive nose to trail their scent.

Millbern trained with Star for three weeks at the Highland Canine Training in North Carolina. That’s where he picked up Star, who was donated to the police department by the dog academy. It was a sizable donation, considering police dogs can cost up to $15,000.

Star came to the North Carolina training center after she was rescued from an abusive owner. She now lives with Millbern.

Becoming a K-9 officer has been a longtime goal for Millbern, a five-year veteran of the Vail force.

“This is all I ever wanted to do,” said Millbern, a self-professed animal lover.

Now, Millbern does hours of training each week with Star to keep her skills sharp.

Later that night, taking a break from patrolling, Millbern tossed a bone behind rocks and over a fence, telling Star to go find it. Indeed, she followed its scent to locate it every time.

“It’s not work for her,” Millbern said. “It’s all about fun.”

Staff Writer Edward Stoner can be reached at 748-2929 or

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