In the Pipeline: K-9 unit deserves your help

At the going rate, 27 kilos of cocaine will fetch $1.3 million on the street.

But the cost of finding such a cache? The price of a dog's chew toy.

After all, that's all Bohdy ever wants in return for uncovering dope, chasing down bad guys or performing other heroic acts.

Bohdy is one of two magnificent Belgian Malinois shepherds in the Huntington Beach Police Department's K-9 division.

He made big news last week when he sniffed out some drugs. It all started with a routine traffic stop near the end of Edinger Avenue by the Huntington Harbour marina. The HBPD requested a backup car.

Officer Casey Thomas was nearby with his partner, Bohdy.

"We were just in the area coincidentally so we went over there," Thomas said several days later. "By law, we're allowed to have the dog run around the car to check things out if people are being rightfully detained. Once I saw Bohdy give the alert, which he does by scratching the ground, we knew something might be up. For Bohdy, it's all about the toy. Everything he does is just about getting that reward. That's how these dogs are trained."

Moments later, 5-year-old Bohdy got the reward, a simple rope toy, and the cops recovered the 27 kilos of cocaine. The two suspects arrested were arraigned Jan. 30 and are awaiting a preliminary hearing.

Currently, the HBPD employs two dogs: Bohdy and Marco. As Capt. Russell Reinhart — who worked K-9 early in his career — explained to me, the police force at one time had four dogs in its K-9 division and would like to reach that number again soon.

Watching these highly trained, enormously efficient animals makes one understand why cops want more of them on the force.

The dogs are much different at home, where they live with their respective handler-officers.

"Bohdy is a wonderful family pet," Thomas said. "But once he gets to work, it's all business. He feeds off the energy of the officers around him."

Marco is the same way.

"Something just seems to click once they put the police vest on," said his handler, Officer Wade Wilson. "These are very intelligent animals that seem to have an understanding of what is at stake out there."

In addition to protecting the officers in the field, the dogs are trained to identify five distinct narcotic scents: cocaine, methamphetamine, heroin, ecstasy and marijuana.

When they pick up a scent, that doesn't necessarily mean that drugs are present. The dogs' noses are sensitive enough to catch transfer scents, which may occur when someone comes in contact with a narcotic and then touches, say, a steering wheel. But in this case, Bohdy struck pay dirt.

Bohdy and Marco, like many other canine squad dogs, come from and are trained in Holland, which is why HBPD officers deliver their commands in Dutch.

Watching the officers interact with their dogs is fascinating and gives one a deep sense of how special these partnerships are. The dogs clearly adore and respect their masters. And like most dogs, all they want to do is play. But they know that sometimes they only get that reward once they achieve the task.

The K-9 unit has a remarkable history that is brought home with a visit to the Sea Breeze Cemetery on Beach Boulevard. There, against the wall, the gravestones bear the names of and years served by these ferociously loyal officers: Barron, Fox, Rambo, Aslan, Atlas, Rex, Kim. The list goes on.

As Capt. Reinhardt said, the department is eager to rebuild the K-9 unit. But budgets today are tight and so any help is appreciated.

The Huntington Beach Canine Assn. is a nonprofit group that receives donations to support training, equipment and canine purchases. If you'd like to help, mail donations to a HBCA, 7962 Moonmist Circle., Huntington Beach, CA 92648.

Thank you to the handlers for taking me behind the scenes for a peek at these truly brave and determined four-legged officers. Pity the perp who tries to escape on foot with one of these on the trail. But perhaps envy the family and officers who keep them warm and safe in their homes.

Excellent work, HBPD officers, both human and dog. Be safe out there.

CHRIS EPTING is the author of 19 books, including the new "Baseball in Orange County," from Arcadia Publishing. You can chat with him on Twitter @chrisepting.

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