Garfield County loses a tough officer to retirement
On a cold day in the winter of 2009, Garfield County sheriff’s Cpl. Chad Whiting and his new partner were sent on their first assignment to locate a fleeing suspect.
The man decided to run from his wrecked car — wearing only a sleeveless flannel shirt and jeans in 29-degree weather — a decision the drunken-driving suspect would quickly come to regret.
The other responding officers set up a perimeter around the vehicle while the new partners set out to find the hiding suspect. It didn’t take long for rookie K9 Officer Bak to pick up an active scent, but by the time they found the man, he was already suffering from the below-freezing temperatures.
“When we got to him, he was hypothermic, and we saved his life,” Whiting recalled. “If we hadn’t found him, he would have frozen to death.”
Now at the end of a distinguished law enforcement career, Bak is a black German shepherd originally from Europe purchased by Garfield County from a kennel in North Carolina in February 2009. He was paired with Whiting, who has worked for the Garfield County Sheriff’s Office for more than 11 years.
Police K9 officers have long had the reputation of being aggressive attack dogs because of the job they do; but Whiting said this is rarely the case. A police dog at work is hardly the same as a police dog at home. When the trained dogs jump in a patrol car, they know they are there to work, and they know they have a job to do. It’s similar when the dog is off-duty; they know the difference.
“I couldn’t have asked for a better-tempered dog than him. He can turn it on and off between working the streets where he is all work, all business, to working with the community and kids,” Whiting said.
Whiting explains how Bak interacts with his family at home. “He’s really good with my family, and they love him to death,” said Whiting.
The initial training to certify Bak was done through an in-house handler school from February to July 2009. Bak and Whiting were certified as a team through the Colorado Police Canine Association in July 2009.
Bak is certified as a dual-purpose police K9, trained in narcotics, detection, tracking and suspect apprehension. Bak and Whiting accumulated 758 hours of active deployment in the seven years they have been partners — not including the never-ending hours of training done almost daily.
While working for Garfield County, Bak used his “nose of gold” to find large volumes of drugs and track down many suspects who fled or hid from police.
Most police dogs are in service for seven to nine years before being retired. Garfield County has a policy to retire its working dogs at the age of 9.
So after seven years with the force, Bak is acclimating to his own life of retirement. He was retired Dec. 11 for medical reasons, having suffered a partially torn ACL in his rear left leg. He’s getting used to living indoors and not being able to go to work with Whiting.
“He is going to be a house dog, and just gets to be a dog for the rest of his life now,” Whiting said. Although this sounds like a life of luxury for any dog, Bak isn’t used to having so much down time.
The process of acclimating a working dog to the retired lifestyle is not simply done overnight, Whiting said. It takes time for the dog to get used to the fact that he isn’t going to work each time he sees his partner putting on the uniform.
K9 officers are bred for a highly active lifestyle, so when dogs with such a high level of energy are not given a job to do on a daily basis, they can easily become depressed and destructive.
Bak is scheduled to have surgery for his injured leg in the spring, once he is acclimated to being at home. This will give him the summer to recover and then in the fall will begin the process of rehabilitation. Once Bak is well enough to get around again, he will become Whiting’s trapping buddy.
“All (next) winter long he will be out with me. We’ve taken him out a couple of times now, and he likes to chase rabbits, which he never got to do before since he’s a working dog,” Whiting said. “He can’t catch them, but he likes to chase them.”
Plans for the next K9
Plans for Whiting’s next K9 partner are still in the works, but the officer knows he wants to continue being a K9 handler for the sheriff’s office. “That’s really all I ever wanted to do in law enforcement, was be a K9 handler,” Whiting said.
Whiting started working as a deputy for the office 11 years ago in October. He said that he has been a K9 handler longer than he has been a deputy.
“I see him more in a year than I see my family,” Whiting said of his K9 partner. “He is always willing to work. Even if I am having a bad day he’s ready to go, and it puts me in a better mood.”
Whiting wants people to recognize that a police K9 is there to protect you and your family, and the community as a whole. “They are great dogs to have around, and they are definitely an asset for the community to have,” he said.
Bak is not the only one getting accustomed to a new life; Whiting is also finding himself adjusting as well. Oftentimes handlers create such a bond with their dogs and get so used to being with them every day that they find it difficult when the dog isn’t there.
“It’s weird, you get so used to having them there and having the constant chatter in the back … the truck is just really quiet,” Whiting said. “It’s like I have nobody to talk to all day now.”
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