The Angels Camp Police Department is seeking to add a K9 to its ranks, a 2-year-old Belgian Malinois German Shepherd mix named Ryder.
Ryder’s prospective handler, Angels Camp Chief of Police Scott Ellis, is living with Ryder during the “partner bonding” phase of training, Ellis said. But before the dog can be inducted into the department and officially trained, the independent nonprofit group the Angels Camp Police Department K9 Association must raise more than $10,000 to purchase Ryder from a Modesto-area vendor.
Ellis said law enforcement could sometimes be characterized by “life or death” situations, so the addition of a K9 would bolster public safety and remedy some of the staffing shortfalls facing the department.
“We work by ourselves the majority of the time. We don't have a backup unit right there in the city if we need assistance or if someone is running from us or fighting us,” Ellis said. “A dog is not a replacement for a human, but it's a deterrent from people wanting to get into that situation with us. If the presence of the dog keeps someone from running or keeps some from fighting, then we’ve won.”
The K9 vacancy was created by the departure of former Angels Camp Police Chief Todd Fordahl and his five-year partner, K9 Kato, who both retired in September.
City Administrator Melissa Eads and Ellis speculated that Kato was 6 to 7 years old. Eads said Fordahl was Kato’s owner prior to the dog’s induction into the K9 program, and was presented to the city “ready to work.”
The city and Fordahl agreed the city would purchase Kato for $1, and upon their retirement, Fordahl would purchase Kato back for $1.
Ellis was tapped to lead the department in October, and previously served as a K9 handler in Turlock for four years, between about 2004 and 2008, he said.
“The team has to be certified together. The new K9 would have to be trained with me up to standards and do the things we want him to do,” Ellis said.
The process could take between two and six months, depending on when Ryder is purchased and his training development, Ellis said.
The department has one other K9, a 6-year-old Dutch Shepherd named Thor, who works with Jodi McDearmid, the Angels Camp Police school resource officer.
“He’s a big marshmallow,” McDearmid said. “If kids don't want to come up and talk to the police officer, everybody wants to come up and play with Thor. He kind of bridges the gap and builds a rapport with the kids.”
While at Bret Harte High School, Thor’s primary duty is related to narcotics detection, sniffing around student’s lockers to locate marijuana or other drugs, McDearmid said.
The first week they started at the school in the middle of October, they found “a little bit,” she said. But since then, Thor has acted as a “fantastic deterrent” to students bringing drugs to campus.
Thor has been an officer of the Angels Camp Police Department for three years, and worked for two years with handler Sgt. Steve Portinga
“He’s a wonderful, friendly, sociable dog,” McDearmid said.
Thor is a dual-purpose dog, which means he can also apprehend suspects or protect an officer in the event of a fight.
“There are multiple facets of what K9s can do,” Ellis said. “There is an officer safety component to what Thor does and what this new dog will do as well.”
In the past six weeks, McDearmid said she was pulled out of school once to contribute Thor to a search.
“It has to be high-priority case to pull me out of the school,” she said.
The ability to have two dogs available for patrol duties, and one that isn’t expected to remain for much of the day on the Bret Harte High School campus, would allow for the department to have “a dog available more often than not,” Ellis said.
“He does nothing until there is a need. If there is a reason for us to conduct a search, he will be utilized for a narcotic search for a vehicle. If there is a justification for apprehension at the time, then a dog could be sent on the person,” he added.
Ellis said the department initially hoped Ryder could be in the field by January, but they’ve raised about $1,700 of $10,000 to $12,000 needed to purchase the dog from Top Dog Police K9 Training and Consulting, which is located in Modesto.
“We’re kind of waiting to see how the donations pan out in the next month or so,” he said.
Ellis said no plans were confirmed, but the K9 association may host a raffle or a barbecue.
“We just want to get the dog paid for and on the street as soon as possible,” Ellis said.
Eads said the K9 program budget was $7,900 of the $1.7 million Angels Camp Police Department budget. The $7,900 was used for annual training for the dog and its handler, she said.
“It's not a large cost when compared to the impact and appreciation that the K9s have in our community. They are really loved and appreciated,” she said. “The community has said it's completely disarming when you get to approach a dog and get to know the officer handling them.”
Eads said a city resolution would be required to accept the dog from the K9 association.
Ellis said he believed that Thor was purchased by a previous K9 Association, a 501(c)(3) that was established by Fordahl and Portinga before his arrival in Angels Camp.
The current association was nearly established, he said.
According to a press release from the K9 Association, the Calaveras County Sheriff’s Office has one cross-trained dog and a single-purpose narcotic connection K9 team.
Ellis said that his bonding with Ryder had already revealed the dog’s potential. He described Ryder as social and energetic with an affinity for toys, but added that he was docile when spending time with Ellis’ wife and kids.
“He's not like a vicious dog at all,” Ellis said. “We want him to be out with the public and people can pet him. We want him to be friendly and also flip a switch if need be.”
McDearmid said Ryder seemed to already have a “good base to him” for obedience, bite work and narcotics detection, and added that he was “a big boy.”
“We want to get the word out. I don't think people understand how important the dogs are to us and how important they are to the community for what they do. It will really raise the awareness that will bring in the donations,” she said.
The Angels Camp Police Department is funded for one chief, two sergeants and four officers, one of which is the school resource officer. K9s usually stay in service until they are about 10 years old, at which point they are retired and usually kept as at-home pets, Ellis said.