LARAMIE (AP) — The driver’s door to the white Albany County Sheriff’s Office SUV is marked “Luger,” and when it opens, out bounds the passenger.
The 3-year-old German Shepherd from Czechoslovakia is black, tan and sturdy.
He is 85 pounds of fur and friendliness.
He’s tethered by a thick black leash to his handler, roommate and constant companion, Corporal Josh DeBree.
Luger is curious and his ears are perked. He greets strangers around him with excitement and kindness.
But, there are controls built into his disposition, the product of 2-3 months of bonding time and 6-8 weeks of professional training, buttons that can be pushed in various situations when needed.
DeBree, in a demonstration of the dog’s comprehension and abilities, commands Luger to handle a suspect until he’s in the prone position.
The dog acts swiftly, aggressively, rendering the suspect harmless. After the exercise, with the work finished, the German Shepherd reverts back to his loose demeanor.
“He’s kind of unique in the fact that most patrol dogs that you see kind of carry their attitude with them all the time,” said DeBree, Luger’s handler for more than 18 months.
“Luger — he’s pretty calm and cool, but he can flip that switch when he needs to.”
Luger and DeBree are currently the entire K9 unit for the Sheriff’s Office, and a recognized team at that.
The corporal and canine were recently lauded by the U.S. Police Canine Association for detector case of the quarter in Region 14, an area that includes canine teams in 13 Western states as well as Asia and Australia.
The case recognized was a November marijuana seizure at Laramie Regional Airport.
Luger and DeBree inspected a suspicious Cessna aircraft and helped detect more than 170 pounds of high-grade marijuana with an estimated street value of about $500,000, authorities reported.
The investigation included the Laramie Police Department, U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s Air and Marine Division and Homeland Security.
A summary of the probe was published in National Canine Courier Magazine.
Luger, a passive alert dog, is trained to sit or lay down when he detects the odor of a controlled substance.
Outside of drug detection, he’s also used in tracking, be they criminal suspects or those who have gone missing.
For all intents and purposes, he’s part of the Sheriff’s Office, county property, a full-time partner to DeBree.
The team patrols and trains 40 hours a week for a myriad of local, state and federal cases.
But, it’s not all work for Luger.
Away from law enforcement, he’s a family dog, living with DeBree, his wife and children.
He enjoys playing in the backyard, like any pet.
DeBree described him as a “good family dog,” gentle with children in social situations or school demonstrations, and a genuine part of the family.
“It’s almost even more than with a personal dog,” the corporal said. “This dog is with (me) 24 hours a day. He literally goes to work with (me) 40 hours a week.
“When (I’m) sleeping, he’s laying beside (me). You go through highs and lows together.”
Luger’s also a layer of security in some situations, DeBree said.
“When you’re out in the middle of no man’s land out in Albany County, he’s your one and only back up,” he said. “He’s with you all the time. It’s nice having that security there with you.”
Within a few months, Luger and DeBree are likely to have new colleagues.
Deputy Christian Handley, recently promoted to a K9 handler position, received his own German Shepherd, 2-year-old Thor, two months ago.
Handley and Thor are in the bonding process and are scheduled to begin formal training in mid-April in Wellington, Colo.
They should be ready for active duty by June.
“(K9 work) is definitely something you have to believe in,” Handley said. “It’s a 24/7 job. If you’re not at work with your dog, you’re at home with your dog.
“It’s a responsibility you’re taking on and it’s another part of your family.”
The K9 program at the Sheriff’s Office began years ago by DeBree’s father, Rob, the undersheriff.
The junior DeBree said the need for an additional K9 unit stems from an increased caseload. Changing Colorado laws are bringing more drugs through Albany County, he said.
“We’ve seen a huge increase in marijuana being transported,” DeBree said.
A K9 unit’s workload varies.
Luger and DeBree average at least one call per week, though it’s not uncommon for things to be busier.
An additional unit should allow the Sheriff’s Office more flexibility, DeBree said.
Handley said the department emphasizes a non-violent approach to training its canines.
After all, it’s a method that worked well in preparing Luger and ideally will produce similar results in the rookie Thor.
“You praise these dogs with love and care instead of physical discipline,” he said. “Verbal instead of physical.
“That’s something the Sheriff’s Office definitely wants. They want dogs that are friendly and approachable. You’re not going to worry about getting your hand bit off.”