Sheriff's Office canines are trained for a lot of things. But not this.
Not being nearly strangled by a burglary suspect in the blackness of a murky swamp. Not being punched in the head while treading water as the suspect slithers away.
Two-and-a-half-year-old Teton had a rough morning.
It started about 2:30 a.m. Monday outside the Courtney Trace Apartments, where someone reported a car stolen. Hillsborough sheriff's deputies arrived to find three men running from the scene.
He and his partner, his partner, Deputy Brian Davis, followed 20-year-old Ervin Wilson into a wooded area near The Addison Apartments. They bounded across the mucky ground, soon finding themselves chest-deep in a swamp.
There, barely visible through the trees, was Wilson. "All we could see was his head," Davis said.
Teton, a German shepherd-Belgian Malinois mix, thrashed toward him as Davis followed behind.
His paws furiously treading water, Teton lunged at Wilson with his teeth, Davis said. But Wilson lunged back, hooking his thumbs through Teton's chain collar and yanking him upward several times before punching the dog in the head.
Davis said he finally caught up to Teton and they struggled together to gain control of Wilson. But the man got away.
Davis said Teton kept swimming, waiting for Wilson to come up for air. "He was more focused than ever after being battered," Davis said.
Wilson finally emerged right in front of the dog, who bit him twice before two other deputies were able to swim over and drag Wilson to dry land. He was charged with grand theft auto, burglary, obstructing an officer and battery on a law enforcement officer canine.
Davis said he carried his exhausted partner out of the water "like a child."
"When you spend 12 to 15 hours a day together, you build a bond that people don't really understand," Davis said. "I know he's going to be there to protect me, and I'm going to be there to protect him."
Not knowing how much water Teton might have swallowed during the tussle, deputies took him to a veterinarian. Teton was hooked up to an IV for fluids and antibiotics as a precaution and given X-rays on his neck, chest and abdomen. Other than an upset stomach and probable headache, Teton was fine, the veterinarian told Davis.
When Teton is rested up, Davis said he will reward him with some plain cheeseburgers from McDonald's. He'll also give the dog a training refresher with a reward at the end — a fellow deputy waiting to play tug-of-war. "He did a great job," Davis said. "He proved himself to me last night."
Times staff writers Jessica Vander Velde and Andy Boyle contributed to this report. Kim Wilmath can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 226-3386.