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Urbandale Police Officer Shane Taylor and his partner were called to a breakin at a West Des Moines house last year. It was a dicey situation: the suspects were still in the house and were believed to be armed.
The decision was made to send in Taylor’s partner, Sabre.
“It was a lot safer sending the dog in,” said Taylor, who nevertheless felt nervous. He was wearing a bulletproof vest, but the German shepherd had no such protection.
“We knew there were people in the house and there were firearms, so the Kevlar would have been good,” said Taylor.
ONE CAN ONLY WONDER WHAT the full powers of perception are in animals, and if, like humans, they can sense that health-related issues might limit what life they have left.
If so, Sabre the dog can rest assured that his was a fulfilled life dedicated to protecting others and helping them feel safe, and making a measurable difference in curtailing criminal activity as a member of the Galloway Township Police Department.
A 4-foot-tall statue of a German shepherd holds court in a secluded spot behind the township Municipal Complex. Nearby, four wooden plaques bear the names of the Galloway Township Police Department’s four K-9s: Sabre, Zito, Chase and Blaze.
Township resident Angeline Pebler donated the statue, and she and the township’s K-9 officers tend a surrounding garden, which overlooks Patriot’s Lake.
The winding trail that slopes up from the lake and passes the garden is popular among area residents walking their own dogs. The spot allows the K-9s to relax and play catch during downtime at the police station.
“It’s a monument to honor the courageous policemen as much as the dogs,” Pebler said. “It’s a reminder of all the training they go through, their dedication and the important work they do to serve and protect the residents of Galloway Township.”
Sabre is a German shepherd who lives with his partner and caretaker, K-9 Officer Kevin Welsh, in Galloway Township. There are two other dogs in the house, but Sabre is the only one with a job.
Sabre loves to play catch and run like any dog. But when he hears Welsh utter the word “work,” his ears straighten up and he looks about ready to jump out of his skin. If the police dog is playing with a ball, it is quickly dropped to the floor and all but forgotten as he stands to attention, awaiting his next command.
“He loves his work,” said Welsh, teasing the dog by dropping the word often in conversation. “On our days off, he keeps looking at the door, waiting for me to put on my uniform so we can go work.”
Welsh says Sabre, who is cross-trained for tracking and drug sniffing, transitions smoothly from a loving, playful dog at home to an alert, dependable partner at work. The officer, engaged to be married, says he would never worry about the large workdog being around children.
“If anything, he’d be more protective,” Welsh said. “He’s great with kids. I take him to DARE events and the kids (listen to me) talking about drugs and alcohol, but Sabre is the main draw. He’s very gentle with them, and they remember him. He makes a bigger impact on them than I do, I think.”
Sabre made such an impression on the students at Reeds Road Elementary School that they raised $2,000 to buy him a bulletproof vest. Aiden Doyle, the son of Galloway Township Police Sergeant Christopher Doyle, gave his entire allowance of $10.
The dog associates Welsh’s uniform and his police cruiser with serious business but waits for specific commands from his handler before launching into attack mode.
Welsh and Sabre are working overtime these days. The four Galloway Township police dogs are helping out in Atlantic City to compensate for the 19 K-9s who have been taken off the streets while Atlantic City Mayor Lorenzo Langford investigates claims of misuse of the dogs there.
Welsh says he and his fellow officers enjoy the extra work, which allows them to connect with a different community and keep the dogs in practice. The downside is longer response times. Welsh estimates a K-9 unit dispatched from Galloway Township – if immediately available – takes about 20 minutes to reach Atlantic City. That’s about four times as long as it would take an Atlantic City K-9 unit to get there.
Police dogs respond to 911 hangups – calls that are interrupted or intercepted before sufficient information can be obtained to determine the emergency. They track children. They also search for missing individuals with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. But Welsh says about 50 percent to 60 percent of the calls are drug-related.
To those who know Pebler, her donation to and continued support of the K-9 unit at Galloway Township Police Department is no surprise. She has been a loud proponent of K-9s for some time. She gives the dogs presents on Christmas, as well as throughout the year. She plays catch with them in the garden behind the Municipal Complex.
For now, the garden is a place to enjoy the view, play with dogs and reflect on their service to the township. One woman told Pebler she walks in the garden every day, offering a prayer for her deceased family and dogs.
By Felicia Compian
When retirement came for K9 officer Sabre, a 5-year veteran on the Temple Terrace police force, he wasn’t quite sure what to make of it. The German Shepherd latched onto his “Kong” chew toy almost as a security blanket.
And anytime a fellow police officer pulled up to Sabre’s house, he would do his best to get into the cruiser.
“He definitely missed work something fierce,” said Sabre’s handler and fellow K9 officer Ken Stanton.
Now, he’s a bit more calm, hanging out in the lanai – pacing when someone new is in the house.
“He’s kind of relaxed now,” Officer Stanton said, and spends time lounging with the Stanton family in the house.
“He’s become a dog of leisure,” the retired officer said.
But Sabre can’t quite shake his police training. When in the house, Sabre is on patrol, checking out every noise that seems out of place, tracking it down until he’s figured out what it is.
While out on walks, Sabre remains vigilant for possible threats against Stanton, placing himself between the officer and any other person or dog they pass.
“He’s very protective over me,” Stanton said of his canine companion.
Both Stanton and Sabre underwent hundreds of hours training to become K9 officers, starting in early 2004, spending four months together repeating the same lessons time and time again. It took 450 hours to train Sabre to earn Narcotics Detection and Police Utility accreditation.
While on the force, Sabre and Stanton made numerous arrests, including one where they helped catch a suspect who was wanted on a warrant but was known to flee when the police came calling.
Stanton recalled one such incident while assisting the department’s special enforcement unit.
Officers requested the K9 unit because they knew the suspect they were trying to serve a warrant on would run.
Stanton and Sabre took their position 10 yards from the garage, located under the second-story apartment the suspect was known to stay in. Three or four seconds after police announced their presence at the apartment’s front door, the garage door began to open and the suspect emerged, poised for flight.
Officer Stanton called out to the man, telling him that if he ran, Sabre would come after him.
“You could see him think about it for a few seconds,” Stanton said.
The man ran – Sabre pursued.
The K9 lunged for the suspect just as the suspect broke left.
The suspect then climbed on top of a car, trapped as Sabre began circling.
Stanton was able to pull the man off the car, but he struggled.
Sabre engaged, latching onto the right rear, upper leg of the suspect.
Stanton asked the suspect why he fled, knowing that the dog would chase him. He replied that he was facing five years in prison so he had nothing to lose.
While Stanton recounted the incident, he referred to Sabre as “the dog,” instead of by his name. He explained that while on the job, that is what Sabre is, “a dog,” a tool of law enforcement.
To think of him as anything other than a tool while working could jeopardize everyone – the officer, the K9 and those working around them.
“You want your police dog to save you,” Stanton said, not the other way around. “That will get you into trouble.”
Sabre retired in late 2008 when Stanton decided that after 21 years in law enforcement, he was ready to try something new.
Now, Sabre tags along on fishing trips, throwing the caught bass overboard as directed by Stanton’s wife, Officer Patricia Stanton, who also works for the Temple Terrace Police Department.
Stanton was allowed to keep Sabre when he retired because he and Sabre were partnered more than two years ago.
He explained that it can take two to three years to fully bond with a canine, and such a bond is difficult to establish with a new handler after it was already forged with the former one.
The Temple Terrace Police Department is finalizing the purchase of another K9, according to Police Chief Ken Albano.
Officer Mike Desmarais has been transferred within the department to become a K9 officer and will be handling the new recruit.
He joins Officer Dale Kelley, who is fellow K9 unit Rocky’s handler.
Chief Albano said that the department wants to have at least two K9 units, though he would prefer to have four – if he had a bottomless pot of gold to pay for it.
“Everyone wants a dog available,” the chief said of his officers. “K9 is a tremendous tool.”