Perryville police officer Jon-Erik Bradford has a few problems with his new partner. Aside from the constant chewing, licking, and shedding, there’s the frequent bathroom breaks.
It’s understandable, though, Bradford says.
The police department’s newest rookie is still in his formative years.
“He’s only 18 or 19 months old,” said Bradford, speaking about Edo, the department’s new K-9 officer. “There’s still a lot of puppy in him.”
To be fair, Bradford is new to this as well.
After the department put down its former K9, Punter, after he was exposed to heroin and fentanyl, the former K9 handler, Bradford’s brother Chris, decided he wanted to pass on a new dog.
Bradford, who has been with the department for three years, wasted no time signing up for the job.
“I was the only one that signed up,” Bradford said. “After seeing Chris work with Punter, I was really interested. I’ve always liked dogs and I want to get drugs off the streets. Anything that can help me do that is a good thing.”
Edo and Bradford completed an eight-week certification training program on April 27 and hit the streets on April 28.
Edo, a Belgian Malinois, is certified in drug detection, tracking, obedience, criminal apprehension and handler protection.
Not long into his first month on the job, Edo made his first official find while searching a vehicle.
The “hit” on the vehicle yielded two marijuana grinders and a small bag of marijuana.
“I’m extremely proud of Edo for his first alert,” Bradford said. “He has done everything he was trained to do and is eager to work.”
Thanks to some early prep work by Bradford, Edo started his first shift a little more prepared than many K9 officers.
Last month, the department received a Buddy Bag for Edo from the K9 Defender Fund to help in the event of a K9 medical emergency, and a Naloxone Reversal Kit.
In addition, through a grant from the National Police Dog Foundation, the department was able to obtain a year of free health insurance for Edo.
Edo was one of 50 police dogs awarded the NPDF K-9 Health Insurance Grant last month.
According to Petplan pet insurance, many municipalities can’t budget for unexpected emergency care costs for their K9s. This grant allows it to do so without asking the community for additional funds or donations.
Police departments often face tough decisions when K9s get ill or suffer severe injuries, like Perryville’s previous K9, Punter, who was exposed to heroin mixed with fentanyl, a potentially lethal painkiller — even in small doses — on the job.
“It was not cost effective to continue with treatment [that was not guaranteed to help] and we did not have a health plan for [Punter],” said Police Chief Direk Hunt.
Pet insurance allows departments to put the health of the K9 first, and budgetary concerns second. The K-9 Health Insurance Fund was first created in 2017 with a donation from Petplan, which was used to fund the initial five grants.
“Police dogs put their lives on the line every day for their communities, and they deserve access to the best possible medical care,” said Jim Reilly, president of the National Police Dog Foundation. “We’re so grateful to Petplan for helping to protect the health of these four-legged heroes.”
In addition to his buddy bag and health insurance, Edo will eventually be fitted for a vest that will help identify him as a police dog and protect him in dangerous situations.
“That won’t be for a few months,” Bradford said. “They won’t fit him for a vest until he’s about 2 years old.”
In the meantime, the two partners are learning each others habits and making adjustments. For Bradford, that means more than just keeping a lint brush handy.
“We haven’t had much time to work together yet,” said Bradford. “Right now, we’re just building that bond, learning his body language, what he’s alerting to, what he needs and what he wants to do.”
Bradford said, that despite his affection for dogs, making the distinction between pet and partner isn’t difficult.
“I don’t have a problem with it,” Bradford said. “My family does. They want to treat him like a family dog — he’s very friendly around my family — but I see him as a partner. It’s my job to see that he’s taken care of.”
Twice a month, Bradford and Edo return to the K9 training facility where they were certified for maintenance training.
That may seem like a lot, but Bradford says its key.
“Edo is a working dog,” Bradford said. “He’s not a family pet, he’s not one that you can run up on and start petting. I understand people want to pet him and treat him like a normal dog, but he’s not. He’s a trained [police] dog.