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After 6 1/2 Years on Duty, Police Dog Is Hanging Up His Collar

Times Staff Writer

Two dozen Inglewood police officers were jammed in the corner of Jino’s Pizza shop honoring a legendary colleague who netted more than 1,000 arrests during a 6 1/2-year career.

The guest of honor, meanwhile, was sitting politely on the floor, begging for a piece of pizza crust.

Welz, a 9 1/2-year-old German shepherd whose career officially came to an end this month, received the same send-off career officers typically get--a gathering of old friends, a few war stories and a commendation or two.

“Whenever anyone retires, they should be recognized,” said Detective Joe Suarez of the Los Angeles Police Department’s Gang Enforcement Team, who was on hand to present the dog with a plaque for tracking down a multiple-homicide suspect May 16.

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Welz sniffed out the armed suspect, who had eluded Los Angeles police officers by hiding under a parked car in Inglewood. After taking a rap over the head, the dog subdued the suspect until officers arrived. It turned out to be his last arrest.

Beaten, Kicked

“It was just another day at the office for him,” said Welz’s handler, Sgt. John W. Bell. “He’s been beaten, kicked and shot at. He’s found criminals in the most unlikely places --on roofs, in trees, in cars, where it would take an army of officers to find someone, he does it.”

Welz, who was born in Germany in 1980, proved his excellence in numerous statewide competitions. He became the first canine with the Inglewood Police Department to win a gold medal in the statewide Police Olympics and a silver medal in the World Games, an international competition. While on duty, the dog was known for his fearlessness, his tracking skills and his ability to discern the good guys from the bad.

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“Welz was the dog that set the standard for the other handlers throughout Southern California,” said Tony Bairos, a Bakersfield kennel operator who has imported German police dogs for departments across the nation. “Welz was the envy of many, many handlers.”

A Gentle Side

And while Welz (pronounced Velz) was recognized in law enforcement circles as the ultimate street dog, his owner is proud of the other side of his character--his gentleness and “his uncanny ability to make people at ease.”

When not sprinting down city streets after gang members, Welz would spend time in senior citizen homes, hospitals and schools allowing just about anybody to pat him on the head.

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“The school kids would say, ‘He only bites bad people so I must be good,’ ” Bell said.

The dog began his career with Bell in 1983 at the age of 2 1/2. He is now 9 1/2, a few months past the usual retirement age for a police dog, and a senior citizen in human terms.

Although Welz is still a very good police dog, Bell said, he was beginning to slow down and show some signs of age.

Adapting to Retirement

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Like many who retire, it has taken time for Welz to adjust to the far less strenuous life style. When Bell first began leaving the house in the morning alone, he said, Welz seemed disappointed and would whine and cry by the front door.

But Welz is becoming more mellow, Bell says. He has added a few pounds and is beginning to acknowledge his new role as a house pet.

And now it’s Bell, a 16-year veteran with the Inglewood police who was recently promoted from an officer in the K-9 Corps to a sergeant in the patrol division, who has the adjusting to do.

Bell and his four-legged partner were virtually inseparable over the last six years. They worked together all day, worked out together on the beach on weekends, and on Sunday Welz would sit patiently in the back of the church.

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“He’s been a real steady portion of my life,” Bell said. “I’ve told a lot of things to him I wouldn’t tell another human being. . . . Who knows? Maybe I’ll try to sneak him into the office.”


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