By ERIC STIRGUS
© St. Petersburg Times, published April 4, 2001
LARGO -- For nearly five years, he has scampered about the streets of Largo in search of those who have run afoul of the law.
His specialty: going after prowlers, batterers, thieves and those possessing drugs.
His secret weapon: a nose that can sniff out just about any substance.
His name: Rebak, one of three police dogs owned by the Largo Police Department.
"He's been a good little worker," said Largo police Sgt. Butch Ward, who has been Rebak's handler since the city bought the 79-pound German shepherd in 1996.
But after a distinguished run with the department, Rebak's career is coming to an end. Police Department officials asked city commissioners Tuesday night for $5,500 to buy a new dog to replace Rebak.
Nothing against Rebak, department officials say, but they believe police dogs lose some of their effectiveness after five years.
Rebak, who will turn 7 in June, will be retired that month.
"He's been a good dog," said Largo police Capt. John Carroll, who spoke to commissioners Tuesday.
The Police Department would use money seized from drug dealers to pay for the new dog. The last dog the city bought cost about $4,500, Carroll said. The price is not excessive, he said. Before the dogs are sold, they usually go through a couple of years of obedience training, increasing their cost.
Rebak was trained by Gary Swart, who specializes in training police dogs for the St. Petersburg Police Department. The dog was initially named "Bak." Ward's younger son renamed the dog "Rebak."
"He wanted a pair of Reeboks," the sergeant explained.
The dog is known around the department for the two silver caps in his mouth. They were put in place during two root canal procedures. The shiny teeth are a hit among children when the department brings the dog on demonstrations.
"They get a kick out of it," said Ward.
Rebak had a busy start to his law enforcement career. In early 1997, Largo police were asked to help Clearwater officers catch a bank robber. It was Rebak to the rescue: The dog quickly found the robbers's mask and jacket, Ward recalled. Minutes later, Rebak caught the robber, who was walking down a street, trying to be inconspicuous.
Much of Rebak's time with the Largo police has not been as exciting, but it has been productive. He has successfully tracked down countless prowlers, found and captured numerous assault suspects and found his share of drugs, officers said.
Two weeks ago, Rebak was at his drug-sniffing best. A small group of kids tossed some marijuana in the thick underbrush of Northeast Park, Ward said. Police searched the area but could not find anything. Rebak found the bag of drugs.
"It was amazing, because you couldn't even see it in the woods," he said.
Ward keeps the dog at his home and will continue to do so once June arrives. He plans to buy the dog from the city for a dollar.
"I've got kids who are attached to him," he said. "I can't get rid of him. They'd kill me."