Two of UTPD’s most valuable resources are also the furriest.
UTPD currently has two canine officers on the street — Spike and Maatje — and senior K-9 handler Jason Taylor said the department is working toward adding a third before the year ends. The department’s canine officers are trained to detect explosives and bring down criminals, and according to their handlers, playtime and crime-time are one and the same.
Taylor works with Spike, a Belgian Malinois who has been with the department for three years and typically works the day shift. Taylor said Spike usually responds to suspicious package or vehicle reports throughout the day.
“Belgian Malinois are like hot-rod German Shepherds,” Taylor said. “They’re lighter, faster-running and harder-biting.”
The department’s dogs are pre-trained, dual-purpose canines, Taylor said, which means Spike and Maatje are patrol dogs that can apprehend criminals and also sniff out explosives.
UTPD assistant chief of police Terry McMahan said the K-9 unit formed as a result of Sept. 11.
“The dogs are very valuable members of our team, helping with suspicious package reports and patrol,” McMahan said. “They also provide a lot of love and affection for the department.”
A tightly-knit bond between handler and canine is critical to the success of a K-9 unit, Taylor said, which is why Spike lives with Taylor.
“You need a bond in order to be a true team,” Taylor said. “You spend so much time together that the bond builds pretty quick and gets pretty deep … I like Spike because he’s a dog that likes to curl up next to you and hang out.”
Taylor signed onto UTPD’s K-9 unit in 2002 with his first Belgian Malinois, Robby. Robby retired in 2010 and passed away in December 2012. Taylor said Robby’s death was one of the hardest things he has ever had to go through.
“I still have bad days regarding that,” Taylor said.
Much like their human companions, Spike and Maatje have to keep in shape. Taylor said the two undergo continuous “maintenance” training. Although police dogs are usually taught to detect four odors, by the time Robby retired, Taylor said he taught Robby to detect 18 different odors.
Some of Spike and Maatje’s duties include extensive K-9 sweeps before, during and after large events like football games, but they are often called out to work with other law enforcement agencies, Taylor said.
“Three-letter agencies will call us to go help them out with security,” Taylor said. “That’s flattering because they have all the resources in the world, and they still come to us.”
Taylor said the price for a police dog depends on the vendor and the dog’s breed. For dual-purpose canines like Spike and Maatje, Taylor said the price can be as little as $8,500 or as much as $20,000. Spike cost the department roughly $12,000, Taylor said.