K9s Rommel, Smokey,Tiger by Russ Hess / Russ Hess

Not just a Dog – He is My Partner

I am asked many times why does anyone want to work with a dog? When you arrive at the kennel and pick your dog to be your partner, you start a career that will bring you more insight in understanding and devotion than you have ever known, yet will also test your strength and courage. More times than not it was his looks, that sparkle in his eyes, that special trait that said pick me!

If you allow, the career of a dog handler will teach you many things, about life, about yourself, and most of all, about people. You will come away changed forever, for having a dog for a partner cannot leave you without leaving its mark.

Along the way, you will learn much about savoring life’s simple pleasures… jumping, running, snoozing in the sun, the joys of puddles, and even the satisfaction of a good scratch behind the ears.

You will spend much time together; you will be together more than with your human family. You will have many talks on patrol, with you doing all the talking, knowing your partner understands when he gently nudges you, reassuring you with his muzzle. You will both be working when others sleep and you will witness many sunrises and wonder how anyone can say there is no God.

When working with your partner it teaches you to test every element, for no rock, leaf, or log will go unexamined, no rustling bush will be overlooked, and even the very air will be inhaled, pondered, and noted as being full of valuable information.

Your pursuit of contraband or a suspect will be relentless. You will learn to trust your dog, having been taught by an expert, the K-9. Regular officers operate on automatic pilot depending on their own sight and hearing, but not the K-9 officer. The ability to work as a team to scent danger is our goal so we both go home at the end of watch.

Without our partner we would miss the details: the hidden footsteps on the lawn, the discarded candy wrapper in the trees, the gun dropped in flight. Once we understand as a dog does, we discover a whole new world. We stop; letting our dog browse the landscape scenting the air passing over his nose. We watch in amazement as his nose starts testing and he pulls us off on the trail the suspect has taken.

And we learn what any dog knows that nature has created a marvelously complex world that is full of surprises, that each cycle of the seasons bring ever changing wonders, each day an essence all its own and each person a unique scent all their own.

You will stop to observe your partner checking the swirling dance of windblown leaves and sniffing the air. He does that to follow the trail that only he can.

You will find yourself doing silly things that other officers might not understand: buying dog breath treats, or driving through the McDonalds to buy him a hamburger.

You will roll in the snow, wrestle with chew toys, bounce little rubber balls till your eyes cross, and take long walks all to comfort your partner.

Your house will become muddier and hairier. You will wear less dark clothing and buy more lint rollers. You may find dog biscuits in your pocket, and feel the need to explain that an old box with fuzzy toys adorns your living room because your partner loves someone to toss them.

You will learn the true measure of love. The steadfast, undying kind that says, “It doesn’t matter where we are or what we do, or how life treats us as long as we are together.” Respect this always. It is the most precious gift any living soul can give another. You will not find it often among the human race.

And you will learn humility. The look in my partner’s eyes often made me feel ashamed. Such joy and love at my presence. He saw not some flawed human who could be cross and stubborn, moody or rude, but only his wonderful partner. Or maybe he saw those things and dismissed them as mere human traits, not worth considering, and so chose to love me anyway.

If you pay attention and learn well, when your partner’s career is over, you will be a better officer and person, the officer and person your partner always knew you to be. The one they were proud to be a partner with.

I must caution you that the career of K-9 is not without pain. Like all paths of true love, the pain is part of loving. For as surely as the sun sets, one day your dear partner companion will follow a trail you cannot yet go down. And you will have to find the strength and love to let them go.

A K-9 partner’s time on earth is far too short, especially for those that are tragically taken from us.

We borrow them, really, just for a while, and during these brief years they are generous enough to give us all their love, every inch of their spirit, heart, and their life or until one day there is nothing left.

The partner that only yesterday was a rookie is all too soon old and frail and sleeping in the sun.
The young pup of boundless energy now wakes up stiff and lame, the muzzle gone to gray.
Deep down we somehow always knew that this journey would end. We knew that if we gave our hearts they would be broken. But give them we must for it is all they ask in return.

When the time comes, and the road curves ahead to a place we cannot see, we give one final gift and let them run on ahead, young and whole once more. “God speed, good friend,” we say, until our journey comes full circle and our paths cross again.
And bless their souls for sharing their lives with us… and adding so much to our very existence.


That is why I chose a dog for a partner.
K9s Rommel, Smokey,Tiger
Russ Hess