By Laurie O’Brien
Fast forward to 2015, and Deputy Rod Ditrich, is looking forward to easing his friend and partner, Rex, into a well-earned retirement.
“He isn’t showing any signs of not being able to work,” says Ditrich. “But what I don’t want to do is what we normally do with police dogs, and that’s work them until they’re crippled and on their last legs.” Just last year, TCSO had to put down a dog just two months after retiring him. Ditrich thinks they can do better by their partners.
The average lifespan of a German Shepherd is between eleven and twelve years, and Ditrich would love to have nine-year-old Rex take it easy while he’s still healthy. “He’s served the citizens of Thurston County and protected me for seven years, and I want to be able to give him the retirement he deserves.”
To that end, he’s breaking in a new partner. Jaxx has been living with Ditrich and his family for about two months now. The 16-month old German Shepherd spends a lot of time playing, bonding with Ditrich and learning basic obedience. He has also been doing ride-alongs with Ditrich and Rex, but he does not get out of the car during calls. He begins official training this month with the goal of completing the necessary 400 hours before attempting police dog certification in May.
Should Jaxx pass, Ditrich will have two partners for a while.
Not many rookie K9s have the benefit of working with a seasoned dog. In fact, Ditrich believes he’s the first law enforcement officer in the state to try breaking in a new dog while still working with an active K9. He feels confident that intermixing the dogs will be beneficial. The plan is to use Jaxx on the easier calls at first, not to use him as an apprehension tool.
Ditrich thinks a newly certified dog is much like a 16-year old driver. “He may have his license to drive, but he’s not any good yet. He has no experience. It’s the same with a police dog. When he gets certified he’s legal to commit law enforcement. He’s legal to go out and track these guys. He’s legal to go out and find evidence, to search for dope, whatever it is he’s trained to do, but he’s not any good yet. He’s an infant in his job.”
Should they be called to apprehend a criminal who will stop at nothing to avoid prison, Rex will be the dog sent out. “We hope that the calls that they get while they’re maturing and learning how to do the job on the street – not training but actual deployments on the street – we just hope that we don’t get that guy while the dog is young and immature,” explains Ditrich.
When young dogs are put into those high stress situations – ones in which they can be kicked, punched, stabbed or even shot at – it can break them. According to Ditrich, when that happens one of two things can result: the dog will become afraid and unwilling to go after suspects, or he’ll become too aggressive and bite at everyone and everything. Part of the job of a K9 deputy is to have a good on/off switch with the ability to be calm and obedient with the public while still being aggressive in the field. A dog with a broken switch cannot be an effective K9 officer.
“We kind of roll the dice with a new dog traditionally,” says Ditrich. “I’ve got the best of both worlds here. I’ll have the ability to have a dog (Rex) that’s very street wise, knows his job well, and there’s no issue sending him against a guy who’ll do anything to keep from going back to prison.”
He believes not putting the younger dog under that huge amount of pressure right away will help him mature into his job. As Jaxx gains experience, Ditrich will start adding the tougher calls to his resume. The goal is to have the transition complete and retire Rex by the end of 2015.
As for Rex, right now he’s taking it all in stride. It’s kind of like having a younger somewhat annoying sibling around. The two dogs are together 24/7. They have been on camping trips with Ditrich and his wife and another family pet. They share a large outdoor kennel at home, and both sleep at the foot of Ditrich’s bed at night.
“Right now Rex is still the dominant one,” says Ditrich. He admits that at one point Jaxx tried to take Rex on, playfully nipping him on the butt, but that didn’t work out very well for the younger dog, and he hasn’t tried anything like it since.
But soon the day will come when Rex will have to relinquish his role as partner and take on the role of stay-at-home pet. That’s unchartered territory. “It’ll be tough for Rex. He won’t like that at all,” concedes Ditrich. “There will probably be some acting out.” However, he knows that Rex knows how to relax. When the family travels, Rex is perfectly content to lie under their RV or by the fireplace. He doesn’t think it will take long for his friend to figure out that now he gets to kick back and enjoy life.
Ditrich will always have a place for him by his feet or at the side of his bed. Rex has earned it.