Story & Photos David Bolling
Let’s pretend you’re a bad guy, you’ve just robbed someone, stolen something or sold a bag of meth, and the Sonoma Police have been called.
You run off into a field bordered by Sonoma Creek and hide in a dense stand of bay trees and manzanita bushes where no one can see you. You figure you’re safe, even if you have to wait until dark.
But 15 minutes later you hear a loud voice calling out, “This is the Sonoma Police. We have a dog. If there’s anyone out there, we’re going to be releasing the dog. Please show yourself.”
You ignore the warning, you’re too far away for them to find you, you can’t even see where the voice is coming from. Ignorance is bliss.
Then you hear the voice again. “This is your last and final warning,” the voice says. “This is the Sonoma Police. We have a dog. We’re going to release him. He’s going to find you and he’s going to bite you. Show yourself now and the dog will not be used.”
Now you’re starting to wonder. Do they really have a dog? (They do.) You’re at least 200 yards away from the nearest street. Could the dog possibly find you? (It could.)
Maybe, you think, I’ll just outrun it. (You can’t.)
What the hell, you assure yourself. I weigh 200 pounds. If a dog comes after me, I’ll just punch it in the head. That’ll stop it. (No, it won’t.)
Your mind conjures a kaleidoscope of scenarios as you consider your next move. But you can’t see the dog because you’re out of sight. And as long as you can’t see it, you figure you’re safe. Sort of like global warming on a macro level.
But you only think you’re safe because you’ve never met Dickie, a 76-pound Belgian Malinois with a nose that can detect at a considerable distance both you and the bag of meth in your pocket, an intensity and energy level that is instantly intimidating, and the single-pointed focus and training to find you, bite you and hang on.
The good news is that Dickie won’t maul you, he’s trained not to. He doesn’t even hate you or wish you ill. He’s just doing his job, and his job is fun, and when he’s done, maybe he’ll get a toy.
“Our dogs are taught to bite and hold,” says Sonoma Police officer Jeff Sherman, who is simultaneously a deputy in the Sonoma County Sheriff’s office and Dickie’s partner and handler. “They’re not bite and thrash. They’re not supposed to rip. We don’t want to cause injury. That’s not the goal of sending the dog. The goal is for that dog to apprehend that guy or gal and to bite them, because they don’t have thumbs. So they bite and they hold. We actually discourage thrashing of the head through training. Which means minimal damage as far as teeth marks. They’re just going to have a couple of punctures, if it’s all perfect. The goal is to put pressure on, and hold that person down, until we can handcuff them and get the dog off.”
Sherman and Dickie are Sonoma’s first K9 team, and they’ve been together since 2013. The scenario above is the kind of incident to which they routinely respond and most of the time the suspects are not stupid enough to run. But if they do, the odds are overwhelmingly in Dickie’s favor.
He and Sherman initially went through five weeks of narcotics school, followed by five weeks of patrol school, and they still have at least four hours of ongoing training every week.
There are 10 K9 teams in the county, and they train together in groups, practicing at a special facility south of Santa Rosa with open fields for apprehension practice, and barns with numerous identical lockers for hiding drugs or other illegal items. Other training takes place in area office buildings, warehouses and commercial structures.
Dickie has been trained to locate marijuana, cocaine, heroin and methamphetamine. His patrol studies included lessons in apprehending fleeing suspects, searching for discarded articles and searching for hidden persons. He’s been trained to search residences, vehicles, commercial buildings, warehouses and luggage.