Topper, a 19-month-old German shepherd new to the Hernando County Sheriff's Office, looked out from a patrol car that still bears a sticker of the face of Ike.
In late May, Ike — about 4 1/2 years old at the time — died of an intestinal complication common to the German shepherds. His partner, Deputy Brandon Cox, was heartbroken.
"I told my boss, 'Just get me another dog. I can't stand being without one,' " Cox said. "I didn't really grieve, though, until Topper came along. He's helping me mourn."
Topper was brought to Florida from the Netherlands earlier this month, said Cpl. Stephen Miller, head of the sheriff's Canine Unit. The dog cost $8,500 and the funding was donated to the Sheriff's Office by an anonymous county resident. Topper will begin a formal 17-week training course in August or September.
It's an education process that Cox remembers well from his time with Ike. The police dogs and deputies practice clearing out buildings and holding people with a bite.
As is standard practice, the four police dogs at the Hernando Sheriff's Office are all unneutered males that are socialized only with their partners and their partners' families. That way, the dogs don't become so friendly that they won't throw down criminals.
Kilo, Miller's partner, is the oldest member of the unit, at 8 years old, followed by Dzel (pronounced "Diesel"), age 3; Topper; and a 16-month-old named Valor.
As Topper learns to bite and bonds with Cox and his family, he also rides in the back of Cox's patrol car. After the 17-week course and an additional few months of schooling in the detection of narcotics, Topper will be ready to work the streets.
During "bite work," when Cox commands Topper to run and chomp down on the jute arm-sleeve worn by whichever deputy volunteers, Cox misses Ike the most, he said.
"I could whisper commands from across the room and he knew," the deputy said.
Already this week, though, Topper seemed to be learning quickly. He stood poised, straining at his leash and shaking with desire, snapping his jaws again and again.
At Cox's signal, he surged, and in a flash was biting the sleeve on Miller.
"Good boy," Cox said.