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K-9 collaboration: Officer forms quick friendship with first-ever IUPD dog

POSTED AT 11:43 PM ON Mar. 5, 2012  (UPDATED AT 12:51 PM ON Mar. 6, 2012)

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The IU Police Department has a new recruit.

He has no rank and no hope of ever earning one. He doesn’t make minimum wage. He’s allowed room and board, if he’s willing to have a roommate, but that’s all.

His is the story of an immigrant who has had to work from the bottom up. He was born in Holland and taken from his mother, and he’s only two and a half years old. He was not allowed a seat on a passenger plane — he was shipped in the cargo hold of that plane to the United States.

He was eventually purchased by IUPD, and the job isn’t always easy. His life is an endless game of Minesweeper — he specializes in finding explosives. He has to ride around Bloomington in the back of a car, which is particularly problematic because of his extreme phobia of motorcycles and bicycles.

Despite these troubles, he is a good friend, though his coworkers say treating him as such will make him complacent and lazy. He is a great listener and rarely talks back. He likes to meet new people, but strangers are usually afraid of him because of the reputation of his kind.

He has been at the police department for only a couple months, but people around town have started to notice his dark brown eyes peeping at them from the back window of a police cruiser. When he steps out, people see his long tail wagging.

His name is Tery. He’s a 75-pound German Shepherd, a common breed for police dogs.

Tery stands out among his breed, and not just because of his training.
His eyes are far darker than usual, a deep blackish-brown ringed with gold when the light hits them, rather than the usual pale brown.

***

Tery walks in small bounds ahead of his police partner and roommate, Officer Chris Collins, as they head to his first assignment in late January.

An IU Athletics employee opens the gates, and they walk through the glass doors of Assembly Hall. They’re still closed three hours before fans will pour in to watch Indiana basketball.

Tery presses his nose into a corner, sniffing along the edge where the wall hits the floor. He rears up on his hind legs to sniff the outside of a trash can, but it doesn’t keep his interest for long. He goes back to sniffing along the floors. He seems unable to walk in a straight line — he wags his tail as he goes, wiggling his entire lean body.

Tery isn’t just sniffing for food or curiosity, though. Tery is sniffing for bombs.
He is IUPD’s first K-9 unit, and he is not the standard drug-sniffing dog. Tery has been trained to find explosives and track missing persons by scent.

Collins is keeping a strong hold on Tery’s thin leather leash. He pulls the leash up and away from his body, allowing him greater control as he and the dog turn a corner on the concourse.

Tery seems about to bolt, and Collins wraps the leash around his hand as the canine suddenly turns and makes a move to slam into him.

Tery is young, but certainly strong enough to knock down the officer, so it’s possible a rush from the dog could take him down.

Collins is unsure whether Tery is working to find explosives, his main function, or just exploring.

“He kind of does his own thing,” Collins says. He pulls, steady but quick, as Tery jerks to the left. “He’s still such a puppy.”

It isn’t searching these important events that motivates Tery, though. The truth is, it isn’t even bombs that Tery wants. It’s tennis balls.

As Collins and Tery make their way past the west ramp, Collins reaches inside his navy-blue uniform.

Though Tery hasn’t found anything yet, Collins pulls out a bright-yellow tennis ball — Tery’s reward for finding an explosive — and bounces it. He hopes to keep Tery excited and interested in his search.

Tery goes berserk. His eyes roll, his tail wags and he runs at Collins’ legs. Collins holds the ball above his head, and Tery uses him as a ladder, scrabbling at his police badges. Collins smiles as Tery lets out a low whine and makes a tentative snap for the ball.

“That’s his whole life,” Collins says. “He lives, eats and breathes for it.”

***

Collins grew up with dogs, though those were smaller Cocker Spaniels he was allowed to treat as pets.

Originally from Auburn, Ind., Collins came to IU in 2004 with the sole desire to become a lawyer.

That desire changed when a friend convinced him to join IUPD’s cadet program, which trains undergraduates as police officers. Collins fell in love with the job.

Now 25 years old, Collins says his life is fun, and he still enjoys his job. He thinks of law school as something to do later in life, nothing he needs to rush into.

When a notice circulated the police department that Chief Cash was hiring internally for someone to work with the new bomb dog, Collins was quick to apply. He was interviewed several times by the chief, and the department inspected his house to make sure it could properly house a dog from a large breed. Cash eventually selected him from a pool of qualified candidates.

In November 2011, Cash, Collins and an IUPD lieutenant traveled to Vohne Liche Kennels in Denver, Ind., to find IU’s police dog.

Despite the police chief’s presence, it was Collins’ responsibility to choose the right dog. After all, Collins would not only work with the dog, he would share his home and life with him.

The three drove north from Bloomington and ended in a town filled with fields and little else. The officers were ushered inside the training facility, a collection of squat, bland, pale-yellow buildings and open fields littered with obstacle courses. The ground was slimy mud that sucked at their shoes and splattered onto their pant legs. Collins already missed Bloomington.

Vohne Liche staff members took the three to a building that resembled a modern barn that might be found on a small farm. Trainers brought out three of Vohne Liche’s best explosive detection and tracking dogs.

The  first two were hyper and unfocused, Collins thought. Then the trainer showed them Tery.

He stood out — he had unusual coloring and a gentle temperament, willingness to let the officers come near him and the ability to calmly settle next to the trainer. When Tery searched for bombs, he seemed meticulous and thorough.

Somehow, Collins knew. This was his new partner.

***

Tery lived with Collins for a week as a test to see whether the two would bond. Tery became familiar with Collins’ house, his cruiser and the police station. Collins seemed to pass the test, and the dog was clearly becoming infatuated with the officer. Tery stuck his nose next to Collins’ face when they were in the patrol car and snapped to attention when he heard the officer’s voice.

After the first week, Collins and Tery were instructed to return to Vohne Liche. There, Collins was trained to handle Tery, giving him commands and reading his body language for signs of detection. Tery stopped searching when he found an explosive, and his body tensed slightly — he was anticipating the bright-yellow tennis ball reward.
Collins was housed in a hotel owned by the kennels during the training. He knew the training was vital to his and Tery’s efficiency and relationship. But that didn’t mean he enjoyed all of it.

After three weeks, Collins and Tery had finally completed enough training to return home.

***

It’s been three months since Tery left the kennels, and he remains both gentle and enthusiastic by nature, shaking his whole body when Collins gives him attention, panting and lolling his tongue whenever he sees that bright-yellow tennis ball.

Collins knows Tery’s vivacity is a good sign. One of the main concerns for police dogs is avoiding the depression and sense of defeat that follows never finding an explosive.
Dogs that don’t feel gratified for performing their main function can decide not to work anymore, rendering them only as useful as a common pet.

Police assume and hope the average police dog will never find explosives in his career.
“The goal is to not find anything,” Collins says. “Or, that’s the hope.”

The unlikelihood of finding bombs in Bloomington might please police. It does not please the dog, who needs at least a few moments of success to remain confident.
To avoid wearing down Tery emotionally, Collins hides small samples of explosive materials in the police station. Tery finds them in desk drawers in various rooms, and his success inspires him to keep working for that bright-yellow tennis ball.

Tery indicates he’s found the explosives through body language Collins has been trained to recognize. When he sees this, Collins rewards Tery with the ball.

It’s Tery’s true love, and he snatches it, chewing on it with the side of his mouth and giving a sour look at anyone who comes near it, including Collins.

***
On a chilly day in February, Tery and Collins patrol Bloomington together in the police cruiser. Collins drives through campus, leaving the station and starting down Jordan Avenue to begin a long circle.

Tery, meanwhile, is spread across the entire backseat, which has been modified for him. Instead of regular seats, the back is now a flat surface. Tery is separated from Collins by a black metal barrier that has openings along the top. Collins occasionally sticks his hand in these for Tery to sniff or lick.

Tery keeps pushing his head between the metal separating him from the front seat, resting his head on Collins’ shoulder.

“One of these days, you’re gonna get stuck doing that,” Collins says, touching the dog’s nose with his fingers.

After a few moments of silence, Tery suddenly slams his whole body against the metal barrier. He begins to bark loudly, teeth showing, watching the street with wild eyes.

A bicyclist had the nerve to pass them in the bicycle lane on Third Street. Tery continues to bark as the cyclist turns onto a side road, then finishes with a long, sad whine.

Collins doesn’t know exactly why Tery is terrified of motorcycles and bicycles.
“Maybe he had a tragic incident when he was overseas,” Collins says.
Collins sticks one hand in the back, hoping to calm the dog. Tery pushes his nose between the officer’s fingers.

Collins continues to drive, but keeps one hand wrapped around the metal to keep Tery calm.

When Tery whines, licks and begs for attention like any normal dog, Collins has to remind himself that their relationship is professional. Tery isn’t a pet. He’s a working dog.

When Collins and Tery finish a shift, Tery still lives with him, and he has to prevent the dog from becoming lazy.

“He’s nobody’s pet,” Collins says. “You have to balance the mushy-mushy lovey-lovey with work.”

Even as he says this, Tery sticks his head out again to rest beside Collins’ face, and the officer scratches the dog’s nose.

Collins smiles slightly as Tery gives a low whine.

***

Tery and Collins are not just dog and handler. They are a unit, and they embody the idea of one.

They spend more time together than most married couples. They wake up together. They drive to and from work together. They run and eat together. They fall asleep together.

Collins is forced to share more of his life with Tery than with anyone else, and after a little practice at it, he shares his inner self freely.

Before Tery, Collins made his patrols alone. It gave him time to think, and he often talked to himself in the privacy of his car. Now he has a listener who seems to care about all the same things.

“He’s great at it,” Collins says. “He never talks back.”

Tery’s ears perk at the sound, and his tail starts to thump against the backseat.

 

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