Saint, the town police department ’s new German shepherd, has started work with K-9 Officer Felicia Figol, resuming the dog-assisted patrols which had ended in the middle of last year, when former police dog Baro was retired from service.
Shortly after his retirement, Baro, age 10, died to due a medical condition.
Last September, the police acquired Saint, a nearly all-black shepherd who is smaller than Baro. Saint’s full name is Saint Michael.
Officer Figol, who handled Baro, will continue in her role by handling Saint, most often on the police shift that runs from 4 pm to midnight. The dog started patrol work about seven weeks ago.
The canine patrol has a new, modified police-marked Ford Explorer SUV that is customized for dog transport. The vehicle has warnings posted on its rear doors indicating that an energetic police dog is inside.
Baro had traveled in an older police-marked Ford Crown Victoria sedan, which had high mileage and was showing its automotive age.
Saint started patrol work after several months of bonding with Officer Figol, with whom he lives. After police acquired him in September, the dog, age 2, underwent extensive training, which will continue.
Following Baro’s death, the American Kennel Club, among others, raised more than $14,000 that was used to purchase the partially trained Saint for town police service.
Saint is from Hungary and responds to commands in German. His training started when he was one month old.
Officer Figol said that Saint’s confidence level is increasing.
Besides the dog’s keen sense of smell, which helps it find missing people or fleeing suspects, its nose helps it detect certain illicit drugs. Saint is trained to detect marijuana, cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamine. When the dog detects illegal drugs, it signals police that the contraband has been found.
Also, Saint’s sensitive nose is able to detect the residual human scent on an object, such as a handgun, which has been thrown into a field, she said. The dog’s keen sense of smell allows it to track a scent in wet areas, she said.
Saint is trained to apprehend, Officer Figol said, explaining the animal’s role in controlling a suspect. The animal is capable of making full-mouth bites on command.
To keep the dog’s abilities tuned, Officer Figol has twice-monthly training sessions with Saint. The dog will continue receiving training as long as he works for police.
Besides his olfactory prowess, Saint works to protect his handler and other police, Officer Figol said.
The dog can be an effective police tool when police serve an arrest warrant or execute a search warrant.
To pacify the normally frisky dog, Officer Figol provides him with one of several chew toys which orally occupies his attention.
“Saint has the potential to be better than Baro” in terms of his police canine abilities, Officer Figol said.
The officer said that she took over the dog-handling duties for Baro after he had been working at the police department for a number of years, but notes that she is starting with Saint at a young age.
During the first six weeks of his patrol work, police used Saint to accompany them while serving an arrest warrant, to aid in dealing with a possibly barricaded person, to help them execute a search warrant, and to conduct a drug search of a stopped vehicle, according to Officer Figol.
Newtown police and other police departments provide mutual aid to each other when the services of a police dog are needed.
A Dog’s Life
Officer Figol explains that to keep Saint in good health, she feeds him a combination and pelletized salmon and rabbit. His teeth get brushed regularly.
The dog, who lives in a large container at the officer’s home, is a svelte 72 pounds and may mature to a weight of 76 pounds, she said. Baro was considerably larger, weighing in at 97 pounds.
Because Saint is smaller, the agile animal is able to fit into smaller spaces while doing a search, she said.
Officer Figol expects that Saint could work for police until he is age 11 or older.
“We hope to have him around for a long time,” she said.
Officer Figol said she expects it will take between six months and one year before Saint reaches Baro’s performance level as police dog.
To keep the dog in good working condition, its handler must repeatedly motivate the dog to perform, she said.
“The bond is good. He doesn’t go too far,” Officer Figol said of the emotional link that the dog has formed for his handler.
As Saint matures, his sense of protectiveness for his handler will grow, she said. So far, the dog has shown an eagerness to please and an eagerness to work, she said.
Patrol Officer Matt Hayes works with Officer Figol, serving as Saint’s decoy in demonstrations of the dog’s skills.
Officer Figol, who has been a police officer for 18 years, joined the town police department in July 2004. She formerly worked as a police officer with the Arizona Highway Patrol.
Local groups who are interested in having police demonstrate Saint’s skills may contact the police station at 203-426-5841.