New officers put their best paws forward

Posted: Sunday, March 04, 2001

FAIRBANKS (AP) -- The two bushy-eyed sisters sat quietly as the boys fidgeted and spoke out of turn. Such was the first impression left by giant schnauzer littermates Kiva and Kira; Hans, a German shepherd; and Ryker, a longer haired Dutch shepherd, as they were welcomed into the Fairbanks law enforcement family this week.

Five new canines will soon help various Fairbanks, North Pole and University of Alaska Fairbanks officers with their duties. A giant schnauzer named Duk didn't make the welcoming event.

Kiva, Kira and Duk are part of the Fairbanks Police Department. Hans will join Cheyenne, a black Labrador mix, at the North Pole Police Department. Ryker will assist University of Alaska Fairbanks Officer Kurt Lockwood.

''He's about the funniest dog you've ever met,'' UAF Chief Terry Vrabec said about Ryker.

The eldest of the new dogs, 27-month-old Hans, interrupted several speakers at a press conference held to introduce the new dogs to the public. A handler had to lead him away so the event could resume, punctuated only by Ryker's occasional yelps.

The new dogs boost the region's K-9 force to 19. Fort Wainwright already has five dogs, Eielson Air Force Base has six, the North Pole Police department one and the Alaska State Troopers have two.

The new recruits and their handlers will undergo nine weeks of training, starting March 12.

Nationally certified dog trainer Sherrie Severa will put them through workouts at her North Pole training facility. Severa has been a K-9 trainer for 17 years.

She'll teach the dogs and their handlers how to detect bombs and narcotics, or find fleeing suspects and missing people. And the dogs will be taught obedience.

''They have to imprinted with many things,'' Severa explained. ''Other areas are instilled in the canine before discipline.''

The training will instill a bond between the dog and the handler, she said.

''There has to be a lot of love and trust,'' Severa said. ''If I tell them to go through a window they'll go, because 'Mommy wouldn't ask unless it was OK.'''

After the training is complete, the dogs will live with their handlers.

Fairbanks Officer Gary Korshin will add one of the giant schnauzers to a household that already contains two ferrets and two dogs. He said he doesn't foresee a problem -- the ferrets already dominate the house.

He was one of three officers selected to become a canine cop.

''This is a great opportunity,'' Korshin said. ''It's an opportunity to provide personal growth and to provide more services to the community.''

He'll have one of the three well-groomed and well-behaved giant schnauzers, which stood apart from the other shepherd variety ''K-9s.''

Fairbanks Police Chief James Welch said he chose the breed -- used exclusively for law enforcement in Europe -- partly because they're a much different looking dog.

''It was a personal preference,'' Welch said. ''I think they're a regal-looking dog, and they don't shed.''

The schnauzers equaled the size of the shepherds, but their closely groomed coat showed tightly muscled bodies that will continue to grow until they're 3, Severa said. The dogs can grow to 28 inches high at the shoulder and may weigh up to 100 pounds.

''These girls will be big,'' she said, stroking them. The unique dogs work well in cold-weather climates because their fur grows over the pads on their feet and provides more traction on ice.

For police work, canines have to exhibit a very social, stable temperament and have a good play drive because the dogs are taught that work is fun, Severa said.

''The dogs learn to understand just like we do: We have an on-duty mode and an off-duty mode,'' said Welch, the Fairbanks chief.

As for the selection of officers to work with the dogs, Welch said they had to have the desire, the drive and the right temperament to deal with the added responsibility a canine requires. The officer's family was also brought in for the interview process.

''It has to work well with the family as well,'' Welch said.

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