Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Canine units take to the water at Weeki Wachee Springs

WEEKI WACHEE

Deputy John Gore of the Hernando County Sheriff's Office still remembers Iso's best catch.

They were waist-deep in the scummy swamp behind Zip's Italian Restaurant in Brooksville when Iso lunged.

"As soon as I heard the scream, I knew we'd gotten somebody," Gore said.

A 6-foot-4 man soaked in blood and algae burst out of a clump of reeds, screaming "like some kind of swamp monster."

Iso, a German shepherd patrol dog, had bitten him on the top of the head.

The burglar got 18 stitches.

Iso's training had served him well. But his water lessons, taken in the early 1990s, were sporadic.

Now, dogs and deputies attend annual training sponsored by the Hernando County Sheriff's Office to gain similar skills.

A dozen canine units from St. Petersburg, Largo, Pasco County, Bradenton and Hernando came to Weeki Wachee Springs State Park on Thursday night for seven hours of optional training, meant to familiarize new dogs with water procedures and refresh the memories of more experienced dogs.

Canine unit supervisor Billy Martinez of the Hernando County Sheriff's Office said although water chases are rare, training — provided annually since 2005 — exposes dogs to everything, which in turn makes them better prepared.

"We need dogs to be confident in every situation, even when he's doing something completely new," Martinez said. "The dog will freeze up if he doesn't know what to do, and that can get very, very bad."

During the training, German shepherds and Malinois dogs swam about 20 feet to shore and bit an officer's heavily padded arm guard, called a jute sleeve.

Some dogs, new to the water, needed coaxing. Others leapt in with tails wagging.

During land exercises, Martinez put on a full-body "bite suit," resembling a red-and-black version of the Michelin man, and waited at the top of the Pirates Plunge stairs at the Buccaneer Bay water park.

The officers reared the dogs back on their hind legs, screamed commands at them — "Get him, get him, get him! Atta boy! Get him!" — and released them.

Dogs still in their 640 hours of training tend to go for the arms.

Veteran dogs like Iso know they can bite anywhere, said Frank Campbell, a civilian canine unit trainer in St. Petersburg who spent 24 years with the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office.

A bite can carry 1,200 pounds of force — more than half a ton.

Even with the suit, that leaves a bruise the size of a grapefruit.

Some officers speak commands in German or Dutch so criminals can't speak to the dogs, Campbell said. The language depends on the dog's birthplace.

About 60 percent of police dog puppies, which cost $8,000 to $11,000 each, come from Europe, including Holland and Germany.

One puppy is chosen from a pool of 10 or more, Martinez said. They are put through a battery of tests, including "prey drive" — basically, thirst for the hunt — and to determine whether they are gun-shy. They can't be.

Martinez has watched his dog race into the closet of a duplex to bite an armed suspect who Martinez said was later shot to death.

Gore watched Iso discover 30 pounds of cellophane-wrapped marijuana bricks hidden in the gas tank of an 18-wheeler.

About 75 percent of canine unit duties are patrol calls, Martinez said, tracking down suspects deputies can't find.

"Many rapes and almost all robberies start with a prowler," Campbell said. "And we can't catch those guys before they do it."

The dogs can sniff out hidden suspects.

The dogs and the officers live and work together, but play together, too.

The training Thursday included games of fetch with slobbery tennis balls, a volleyball match and multiple trips down the water slide.

Deputy Jeanine Gagliano with the Largo Police Department even trusts her 50-pound dog, Jet, to play with her 4-year-old son.

Campbell called that deputy-dog bonding vital.

"You go to a 7-Eleven that's just been robbed, and the clerk says, 'Yeah, the guy ran into that dark alley,' " Campbell said. "You'd be crazy if you weren't scared. You've got to trust your dog and know he can get it done."

Laura J. Nelson can be reached at [email protected] or (352) 848-1432.

Canine units take to the water at Weeki Wachee Springs 06/04/10 [Last modified: Friday, June 4, 2010 11:20pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Trump issues warning to McCain after senator's 'half-baked' comment (w/video)

    National

    WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump on Tuesday issued a warning shot after Republican Sen. John McCain questioned "half-baked, spurious nationalism" in America's foreign policy, saying "people have to be careful because at some point I fight back."

    Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., right, accompanied by Chair of the National Constitution Center's Board of Trustees, former Vice President Joe Biden, waves as he takes the stage before receiving the Liberty Medal in Philadelphia, Monday, Oct. 16, 2017. The honor is given annually to an individual who displays courage and conviction while striving to secure liberty for people worldwide. [Associated Press]
  2. Study: Florida has fourth-most competitive tax code

    Banking

    Florida's tax code is the fourth most competitive in the country, according to a study released Tuesday by nonprofit group Tax Foundation.

    Florida has the fourth-most competitive tax code, a study by the Tax Foundation said. Pictured is  Riley Holmes, III, H&R Block tax specialist, helping a client with their tax return in April. | [SCOTT KEELER, Times]
  3. A punter is the state's only first-team, midseason All-American

    Blogs

    Here's another indictment of how mediocre the state's college football season has become.

  4. Fred Ridley on the Road to Augusta

    Blogs

    Last week, I sat down with Fred Ridley, the new chairman of the Augusta National Golf Club, home of the Masters. Ridley, a lawyer who has resided in Tampa since 1981, was the 1975 U.S. Amateur champion and is the only Chairman to have played in the Masters. I wrote a long story on Ridley, but here are some of the other …

    Fred Ridley, looks on during the Green Jacket Ceremony during the final round of the 2017 Masters Tournament in April at Augusta National Golf Club.
  5. Tampa police link two shootings, tell Seminole Heights residents to avoid walking alone

    Crime

    TAMPA — One was a 22-year-old African American man. The other was a 32-year-old white woman.

    A small memorial sits in the grassy lot on East Orleans Avenue in Seminole Heights where 32-year-old Monica Hoffa's body was found Friday. Hoffa had been shot to death, and Tampa police say they believe her killing is related to the shooting death of Benjamin Edward Mitchell, 22, at a bus stop near N 15th Street and E Frierson Avenue on Oct. 9. There are no clear motives, however, and police have asked to residents to be on the lookout for anything suspicious and avoid traveling alone at night. JONATHAN CAPRIEL/Times staff