Tuesday, June 8, 2004

Social, playful 4-legged 'cop' tracks them down



By Erica Solvig
The Cincinnati Enquirer

[photo]
Mason police officer Matt Hayes with his new partner, Zicco, in front of the Mason Municipal Center. The 2-year-old German shepherd, obtained in Germany, will start work next week doing drug, evidence and people searches as well as criminal apprehensions.
The Cincinnati Enquirer/GLENN HARTONG
MASON - Rolling around in the grass, Zicco, a 20-month-old German shepherd, is playful with those who are fawning over him.

But don't let the passive appearance fool you: He's also trained to don a bulletproof vest and chase after criminals when the right commands are said in German.

"He's trained for everything but cadavers and bombs," said his handler, Officer Matt Hayes, a Mason officer for eight-plus years.

At 10 a.m. Friday, Zicco will show off some of those skills at the Kroger on Kings Mills Road when the city kicks off its first K-9 unit in about 20 years. The investment is increasingly common, experts say, as police departments recognize the benefits of having their own dogs.

K-9 KICKOFF
WHAT: K-9 unit skills demonstration and donation presentation.
WHEN: 10 a.m. Friday.
WHERE: Kroger, 5210 Kings Mills Road in Mason.
Mason police had a dog in the early 1980s, but the program "fizzled out" after a few years, Hayes said. Since then, the city has borrowed from area departments an average of 30 times a year.

But after considering the lag time in getting the dogs on scene, scheduling conflicts and not being able to use a K-9 unit for more routine calls such as building alarms going off, the city approved restarting the unit.

"Time was definitely a big factor in the decision," Hayes said. After years of research and about eight months of searching for just the right dog, a Dublin, Ohio, trainer found Zicco in Europe. "It took a long time to wait for him, but with the qualities we were looking for, we wanted a very social dog who interacted well with other dogs," said Hayes, who lets Zicco live with his family and their other German shepherd.

A number of police departments nationwide, including many smaller ones in Ohio, are starting up K-9 units mostly to use the dogs' sense of smell, according to Jim Watson, national secretary with the North American Police Work Dog Association. In Butler County, Oxford Township police are currently considering the idea.

"K-9 units actually prior to 9-11 were on the rise, though not quite as rapidly as since 9-11," Watson said.

Initially, it's costing Mason about $17,000 to start the program. Friday, Milk Bone and Kroger will donate $5,000 toward the cost. Fines from drug cases in Mason Municipal Court pay for the rest.

E-mail esolvig@enquirer.com




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