By Jeremy D. Wells
Carter County Times
Grayson’s newest addition, a German shepherd named Toro, might seem like a great big goofball at first if you didn’t know he was a working dog. But when it’s time to work, partner Justin Stone explained, Toro definitely has what it takes.
Stone related the story of another officer who commented on how playful and gentle Toro was, teasing about the dog’s nature. So, Stone suggested he gear up for a training session. They didn’t even have to proceed beyond that, Stone said. The change in Toro’s demeanor when the other officer approached the padded arm covers was enough to convince him.
When it’s time to work, Toro is ready to work. Just as hard as he plays.
Most of that work, Stone explained, is done with his sniffer.
“The importance of having a canine is, he brings the value of his nose,” Stone said. “He’s trained on seven different narcotics, and he’s trained to track people.”
That could be a suspect on foot, Stone said. Or it could be a lost child or missing elderly person. The value of Toro’s nose isn’t that it discriminates, it’s that it finds things.
Most often, those things are going to be drugs.
“It’s very well known that we have an epidemic drug problem here,” Stone said. “He’s been deployed already a few times for free air sniffs of vehicles. One of those resulted in an arrest.”
Helping give officers the confirmation they need to take drugs off the streets is a morale booster in and of itself, but Stone said Toro’s personality is also a morale booster in the office and in the community.
“It’s just good for the guys to see him,” he said. “They always perk up, and have a good smile. They like to play with him when he’s here. He just lifts everybody’s spirits a little bit.”
The same goes for community relations, Stone said.
“It’s pretty much the same for the community,” he said. “Once they get over the initial, ‘Is he a mean dog? Can we pet him?’ Once we get past that, and I let him come out, and they get to see him and pet him, and their kids get to do the same; it’s just a positive interaction for the police department for the community.”
Toro is also a great ambassador for education. Stone said they already have some demonstrations scheduled for Prichard Elementary, and he expects there will be programs at other schools as well.
None of this takes away from the fact that Toro is a police officer, though.
“He’s also trained in handler protection and apprehension,” Stone explained. “The value that adds, you can’t put a price on it. Because there are sometimes that he will stand in place of an officer, and do what needs to be done.”
It requires an intense amount of training, and an intense bond between handler and dog. That’s how Stone ended up with Toro instead of the dog he was initially offered, a Belgian Malinois female named Alpha.
“On her final checkoffs, she wasn’t up to par for them, on what they thought she should be,” Stone explained.
He spent some time with Toro instead and they clicked.
“We bonded really, really well together,” he explained. He said that within the first 15 minutes of going over a few basic commands the instructor handed him the lead and told him to take the dog to his room.
After that, Stone said, “I spent a lot of time with him, just trying to bond. Getting to know him. Getting to know his quirks.”
“I’m sure he was thinking the same thing about me,” Stone laughed. “But we’ve bonded really well,
and we’ve not really butted heads any at all.”
That’s saying a lot considering he worked side by side with the dog, every day, ten hours a day, for two weeks during their training in Ashland, Ohio.
That’s an intense amount of training.
It’s been a lot longer process than that, though. The kind of endurance event that makes the final two weeks of training seem like a sprint to the finish.
The police department first began discussing the possibility with city council nearly a year ago. Stone said he first approached city council formally “around the first of March,” after obtaining a $20,000 grant to partially fund the dog and training.
After much discussion, Council funded the rest of the cost with opioid abatement funds from the state, leading to Toro’s recent addition to the force.
It was all a lot of work, Stone said, from navigating the finances to fund the dog to training with him. But it was all worth it, he added, and now that Toro is here, everyone else seems to agree.
And Toro? Well, Toro’s just happy to play. Until it’s time to work.
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