At the Harris County Sheriff's Office's new K-9 obstacle course in Humble, dogs train to handle challenges they may come across on the beat: stairs, ramps, ladders, walls or tunnels. Sergeant Mike Thomas is in charge of the K-9 training. He says four-legged deputies can do things that their human counterparts can't.
"So like when you go home and your wife is cooking and they're cooking spaghetti and you come in and you go, 'Spaghetti.' Well, the dog walks in and goes, 'Hmm, flour, salt, hamburger, garlic, tomato.' So they can break down those odors into categories, and that's what makes them so valuable to us."
That skill is useful when it comes to finding drugs even when they're wrapped in several layers and surrounded by other heavy odors like coffee or mustard. Also, Thomas says, K-9s can clear a crowd much faster than officers can.
Sheriff Garcia during K9 honoring ceremony
Some of the preferred breeds the Sheriff's Office looks for are German Shepherds, Belgian Malinois, Rottweilers and Bouviers, usually from Europe. Many of them are donated by local charity K9s4COPS.
Thomas says one out of about 8,000 dogs is able to become a police dog. The most important characteristic is drive.
"That's what they have to have. They have to have drive. A dog that would drive a normal person crazy. They have them in the backyard and they destroy their yard, they destroy their barbecue pit, just constantly tearing things up. That's the kind of dogs we're looking for."
This week, the Sheriff's Office honored the strong drive of their 24 K-9s and awarded them with crime fighter badges during an official ceremony.
Sheriff Adrian Garcia appropriately began his speech like this:
"Woof, woof, woof!"
He also expressed his gratitude – in English – for the service of the agency's dogs and their handlers.
Two of the K-9s, Tommy and Boomer, received special recognition for their crime fighting record, which landed them a nomination for the American Humane Association's annual Hero Dog Awards.
Tommy's handler, Deputy Jason Bullock, says his K-9 is great, but so are all of the Sheriff's Office's dogs.
"It's not so much being better than any of the other K-9s. Tommy has had just, you know, he's got quite a few captures in a short amount of time and you know, call it luck or skill or whatever. I mean I see him more on, like, the lucky side."
Tommy has helped in the arrest of 36 suspects, found an elderly missing man and found important evidence in a rape case. All that in just 18 months on the force.
The public can vote here for their hero dogs of the year in eight different categories through July 30. Winners will be announced on Aug. 6 and each receive $1,500 for their respective charity.
One of the officers running a K9 candidate through an obstacle course