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Ruff! That's the sound of a new Dade City police unit

With help from the community, the police department is able to buy and train Pirate, its first police dog.

By BRIDGET HALL GRUMET, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published April 23, 2003


DADE CITY -- It was 8 a.m., and the rookie already was antsy.

He paced at the door to Capt. David Duff's office at the Dade City Police Department and sighed.

Bor-ing.

He slipped into the office and rifled through Duff's trash can, then knocked over some of the handheld radios and papers piled on the corner of Duff's desk.

That was fun while it lasted.

Then he caught an annoyed glance from his superior, a burly officer who was a little grumpy that morning. He went over and planted a slobbery kiss on Duff's hand, a sort of silent apology.

Duff's not the kind of guy to take this behavior from any of his officers, but he's cutting this one some slack. After all, Pirate is a 31/2-year-old German shepherd with most of his police training ahead of him.

"He wants to go out and play," said his handler, Officer Chris Stone, as the 70-pound dog gnawed on his leathery leash. "He doesn't want to just sit around."

That hyperactive streak should serve Pirate well as the first member of Dade City's newly formed K-9 unit. When the time comes for him to follow a fleeing suspect or search for a lost child, he'll have the energy and determination to see the chase through.

"He's already got some good training, a good temperament. He's going to be a great dog," said Cpl. Troy Law, a dog trainer with the Pasco County Sheriff's Office who will help teach Pirate.

"We ask a lot of the dog," Law said. "(Two weeks ago) I had to track someone for an hour and 15 minutes through the nasty swamps in Hudson. We want them to be full of energy."

Dade City police bought Pirate from a obedience trainer two weeks ago for $4,000. But the city didn't have to pay a penny: A group of residents raised the money through fundraisers for the Saving Lives Program.

Ron Edgerton, a dispatcher for a trucking company, started the program a year and a half ago to raise money to buy a Breathalyzer for the police station. As the money poured in from golf tournaments and raffles, a dog unit was added to the list of projects.

"I've been here 19 years; and we've talked about (starting a dog unit) every year, and this is the first dog we've got," Duff said last week. "The city couldn't come up with the money."

Edgerton has tried to cover every cost of the new program. The Sheriff's Office donated an old cruiser with a dog cage, although the city had to pay a few hundred dollars to put the police department's decals on it.

Dr. William R. Moore, a veterinarian at the Town & Country clinic, is giving free exams to Pirate, although any more extensive health care would not be free. And Edgerton is lining up businesses to "adopt" the dog each month by paying for food and medical costs. Officials said they are still working out details on the monthly costs.

"We're trying to get the community involved in it more and get the citizens of Dade City more involved in the policing of Dade City," Edgerton said.

Pirate isn't yet ready for prime time. State law requires police dogs to complete at least 400 hours, or about 10 weeks, of training. The Sheriff's Office training program goes beyond that, lasting about 16 or 17 weeks, Law said.

The dog will learn how to track human scents and how to hold down a runaway suspect until the handler comes over to handcuff him. Eventually, Pirate will also be trained to sniff out drugs, Duff said.

To help strengthen the bond between dog and handler, Pirate lives with Officer Stone, 25, who grew up in Hudson around German shepherds.

Stone has "childproofed" his house to keep possible chewables out of Pirates' reach. Chasing an old tennis ball or tugging on a footlong strip of garden hose is usually enough to keep Pirate entertained.

The black-and-gold dog comes to work with Stone, patrolling with him to become familiar with the car and the community.

Before they got Pirate, the police officers had to call the Sheriff's Office if they needed a dog, Duff said. But once Pirate is trained, he'll be ready to take any east side calls.

"We've always had a good working relationship with the Pasco County Sheriff's Office," Duff said. "Now we can return some of the favors they do for us."

-- Bridget Hall Grumet covers crime in east Pasco. She can be reached at 352-521-5757 ext. 23 or toll-free at 1-800-333-7505, ext. 6108, then 23. Her e-mail address is bhall@sptimes.com .

Want to help?

For information about helping cover Pirate's food and medical costs, call the Dade City Police Department at (352) 521-1495.

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