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New K-9 has a nose for criminals

“Bones” has an uncanny snout that sniffs out crooks or hunts for hidden weapons.

The 3-year-old Belgian Malinois, who is originally from the Netherlands and did a stint in Africa, joined the Medford Police Department three weeks ago. He is one of two tracking dogs and three drug-sniffing dogs in the K-9 unit.

Bones, who also goes by the nickname Bono, has the ability to corner crooks or pin them down, with some force if necessary.

“If we’re in a situation that calls for it, there is the potential for injury,” said Sgt. Trevor Arnold, who heads the K-9 unit.

Luckily for Bones and the other police dogs in the valley, a Senate bill that would ban the use of snarling dogs to keep prisoners in line also makes it clear that these hard-working canines can continue to perform their duties. Senate Bill 495 has been assigned to the House Committee on the Judiciary after passing easily in the Senate.

In fact, the bill has language that protects dogs such as Bones, which are invaluable for protecting police and potential victims.

The Senate bill was prompted after an inmate was mauled by a dog at Columbia County Jail in 2017 after refusing to come out of his cell. The inmate received a $251,000 lawsuit settlement in 2018. Since then, the jail stopped using dogs to force inmates out of cells.

The bill, if it becomes law, would prohibit using attack dogs to threaten inmates in adult and youth correctional facilities. The bill still allows dogs to be used to prevent escapes or control inmate disturbances.

The Jackson County Jail doesn’t use them to control prisoners, except to locate contraband, but the sheriff’s deputies have their own K-9 unit.

Many police dogs are trained to subdue the bad guys. Arnold said the crime would have to be pretty serious before a dog would be used forcefully against a suspect.

More typically, the dogs track people who run from stolen cars, burglaries or robberies. Bones could easily find someone hidden along the Greenway, something that would otherwise require a team of officers to search behind every bush or tree.

“The primary use is for tracking suspects,” Arnold said. But evidence, either clothing or weapons, can also be found by the dogs.

Most police dogs come from Europe, and they’re not cheap because they are so well trained. Bones cost $11,900.

And because they’re from Europe, they’re not always bilingual. Bones responds to Dutch commands but is getting better at understanding English. His handler has learned how to say “Af” (down) or “Zoek” (track). Some words are similar to their English counterparts, such as “Zit” for sit, or “Staan” for stand.

Arnold said the dogs are so well trained they can track an object or person for a considerable distance.

“Their noses are infinitely stronger than a human nose,” Arnold said.

During the training process, when they’re still puppies, the dog’s handler determines what his particular canine is good at, such as tracking or sniffing for drugs.

A few years ago a suspect who was menacing with a firearm fled down the Greenway and tossed his weapon into the water.

“The dog put his head down in the water and found the gun,” Arnold said.

Last December, a police dog tracked down 19-year-old Ruben Rivera Rodriguez on Griffin Lane after he allegedly rammed an officer’s car following a pursuit.

The dog spent almost an hour locating Rodriguez, who was taken to a hospital to be treated for dog bites.

In Bones’s case, he’s particularly good at tracking things. On Tuesday, he was able to easily locate a set of keys about a football field’s distance from the patrol vehicle.

“They’re trained as puppies to focus on a person,” said Officer Justin McFetridge, Bones’ handler. “They learn from a puppy that going and finding people is fun, that’s their playtime.”

And Bones really does focus.

As soon as he jumps out of the patrol car, the dog’s eyes are fixed on McFetridge, waiting eagerly for commands.

When they run across a field together, McFetridge yells, “Af,” and Bones drops to the ground as his handler runs ahead.

Bones, after a hard day at the office, goes home with McFetridge at night.

Many of the police dogs sit in patrol cars during the day, even in 100-degree weather. But the vehicles have several safety features to keep the interior at the right temperature to keep the dogs safe.

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476 or dmann@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on www.twitter.com/reporterdm.

Medford, Oregon police have a new tracking dog that can track crooks and evidence.{ }