Vail Daily guest column: Dog rescued from shelter now saves humans’ lives
Mere hours before euthanasia, a dog got his calling — to become a superhero. Superheroes come in all forms, and for the Eagle County Sheriff’s Office, it came as a lovable mutt named Jake. For nine years, he put his life on the line, with an almost psychic ability to detect danger. In addition, Jake is a money-maker, helping to seize more than $250,000 in assets, which more than pays for his training and upkeep.
How did Jake become the most lovable protector of Eagle County? He started out as an unlikely hero. As a rescue dog, he was overlooked at the training facility because he lacked the pedigree of an elite police dog, but he instinctively knew he had to work harder. He had to be faster, more intuitive, precisely accurate, totally adaptable and possess greater awareness than any other dog. He had to be the best to compete with the purebreds.
Enter Deputy Jake Best, looking for a K-9 for the Eagle County Sheriff’s Office. As an experienced handler, he knew that he would be making a lifelong commitment to the dog he selected. This was not just a business decision, but a personal commitment for the dog’s entire life. He would be living with this dog and spending more time with him than his own family.
After spending the day, meeting with each dog at the facility, as he was about to leave, the owner of the training facility mentioned another option; a dog he was training personally. In came Jake, floppy ears and a big smile, coincidently sporting the same name as his soon-to-be handler. Fate was at work!
The trainer hid drugs in the other room, then brought Jake in. The excitement was barely containable, as Jake was ready to work. Within minutes, he discovered the hidden drugs and was ready for a treat — his toy. All training is positive reinforcement; thus, when a dog on the job is searching for drugs, it’s really a search for their favorite toy. This is why police dogs must have a strong interest in playing with toys; an indifferent dog is not a good candidate. Work and training are the only times a K-9 is allowed to play, so their main focus throughout the day is seeking that toy or treat, which is why they are so eager to jump out of the car and begin the search.
A K-9 dog costs an average of $10,000. Their first two to three years of life are spent in basic training. A handler, generally spends about the same amount of time in preparation for that role. Once both are ready, the search for a perfect match is on. It’s instinctual, not quantifiable.
Full training takes about three months, with additional monthly training, daily practice and intense recertification. This program must be completed with the dog’s handler, as their communication is unique and can mean the difference between life and death.
Certifications for multi-use dogs encompass multiple fields, where an 85 to 95 percent accuracy is required. Tracking includes missing persons, crime evidence, arson accelerants, cadavers and even cash. Dogs learn the language of hand signals and verbal cues. A selection is made between drug or bomb detection because while a dog can tell the difference, they are unable to communicate that distinction to their handler, and you don’t want an anticipated drug package opened, only to have it explode.
Living adjacent to Interstate 70, we are close to those who seek to cause harm, including smugglers, human traffickers, terrorists, drug dealers, thieves and even murderers. They’ve got to go somewhere and I-70 gets them there; making a normally safe community, highly vulnerable.
Jake and Jake are on-call and off to the rescue at a moment’s notice. As part of the Gore Range Task Force, Jake has been an essential part of the drug interdiction team.
After nine years of service, Jake — the dog — began to show signs of physical ailments, and is now being retired. Jake gets up every morning with his handler, and runs to the door, ready to jump in the car, but instead, stares as the door closes in front of him. What did he do that his buddy is leaving him behind? That sadness extends to the Eagle County Sheriff’s Office, where his joyful presence is greatly missed. This rescue dog has spent his entire life rescuing others, and for that we are forever grateful.
James Van Beek is the Eagle County sheriff. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.