The Routt County Sheriff’s Office is home to the K-9 team of Deputy Ed Hendricks and Boomer, the County’s first official canine unit. Boomer, police dog and a three-year-old, 80 pound, bilingual Belgian Malamois, began training with Hendricks in 2015 when Boomer was 15 months old.
“Boomer came to us from the Czech Republic via Amsterdam, Israel, San Francisco, and then to the Reno, Nevada K-9 training facility, Vigilant Canine Services, International (no longer in operation), where I was introduced to Boomer for the first time,” said Hendricks. He acknowledged the Sheriff’s Department got lucky with the bond that has developed between him and Boomer, as the usual selection process entails a prior meeting between the canine and handler to determine compatibility. Boomer arrived as a “green dog,” noted Hendricks, meaning he had no prior training except exposure to gunfire. “Boomer didn’t like the gunfire, so we had to fix that,” said Hendricks.
As a new canine team, Boomer and Hendricks spent the first five weeks of their partnership at a Reno, Nevada training trained five days a week, with weekends off. “Monday through Friday we alternated between narcotic training, bite work and patrol work,” Hendricks said. Boomer has commands for every maneuver, and Hendricks said he speaks those commands in Czech.
Video of Boomer following Deputy Hendricks’ Czech commands during a game of fetch. Video courtesy of Janne Siegel.
At the end of the initial training session, the participating canine teams are released to work. However, Hendricks noted that the certification process and continuing training education follow the initial training. The United States Police Canine Association, the North American Police Work Dog Association and the National Police Canine Association all recommend K-9 teams train “sixteen hours per month per discipline for canine teams,” Hendricks stated. Boomer has both national and Colorado certifications in bite/patrol and narcotics work. “The certifications are important because in court the defense often claims Boomer was not reliable, and the certifications and trainings prove Boomer knows what he is doing,” noted Hendricks. Deputy Nate Opsahl with the Summit County Sheriff’s Office echoed Hendricks’ sentiments about certification. Opsahl has been a K-9 handler for nine years, having trained and certified two dogs. “Having the certifications says that reputable organizations recognize the K-9 has the skills to be deployed,” said Opsahl. Opsahl added he would not release a K-9 to work unless the K-9 was certified. “It gets a little confusing under Colorado law because Colorado does not require a K-9 certification to work the road. However in Utah, K-9 dogs must have a certification before working the road,” said Opsahl. Regardless of Colorado law, Opsahl believes certification from Colorado Police Canine Association and ongoing training demonstrates dedication to a K-9 program. “If you aren’t getting the K-9 certified, you are not committed to being a canine handler,” said Opsahl. According to Hendricks, due to Boomer’s certifications and regular training sessions, Boomer has only been challenged in court once, and the judge ruled in Boomer’s favor, finding him reliable.
Hendricks said Boomer loves his job. “When I put on my uniform on and test my Taser, Boomer gets excited and knows he is going to work,” he said. Boomer works a 40-hour week with Hendricks in a patrol vehicle specially equipped to accommodate Boomer. It has metal siding on the doors and a rubber mat on the floor, Hendricks said. The metal doors and rubber mat prevent Boomer from destroying the interior of the vehicle. “Boomer has torn up another vehicle, so this vehicle is the only one he rides in,” Hendricks said. The back windows of the vehicle are metal with inserted motor fans to keep Boomer cool. “It is sad, but many K-9 dogs have died due to heat exhaustion, so the fans are extremely important,” noted Hendricks.
“Boomer knows when we get a hot call, or I run the lights or sirens or speed up the car, that something is going on,” Hendricks said. When he pulls up behind a vehicle for a stop, Boomer whines and cries, Hendricks noted. At the stop, Hendricks said he initially determines whether there is a reasonable suspicion under the law to have Boomer perform a vehicle sniff. “To run a dog, the traffic stop cannot be extended longer than what would be normal,” he said. Hendricks said, logistically, that usually means he has to have another officer on the scene to run Boomer. “We really follow rules because we have to. We are bound by the rules. When in doubt, I don’t run Boomer,” he said.
Following the initial stop, and assuming there is reasonable suspicion under the law, Hendricks said he then puts Boomer to work by placing him on a six-foot lead allowing Boomer to run his pattern twice around the stopped vehicle. “Boomer is what is known as passive alert. When he finds odor, he sits down,” he said. According to Hendricks, before Boomer’s final alert (the sit) he looks for a change in Boomer’s behavior: the position of his tail, his breathing pattern, his ears, and his eyes to support Boomer’s final alert response.
“There are so many factors we have to watch for legally. If he showed the change of behavior, his alert (his sit) is his final response,” Hendricks said. Hendricks said Boomer is trained on four drugs: cocaine, methamphetamine, ecstasy, and heroin. If he alerts to one of those smells, that gives Hendricks legal probable cause to search the vehicle, items in the vehicle and the vehicle occupants.
Video of Boomer playing with his tug, his favorite reward for a job well-done. Video courtesy of Janne Siegel.
On Boomer’s days off, Hendricks said Boomer hangs out at the house, and he takes Boomer to the parks in Hayden where Boomer runs, plays fetch, and plays with his favorite toy, the tug. Boomer will also have a few training sessions thrown in the midst.
Boomer has garnered many fans, both in and out of the Sheriff’s office, according to Hendricks. Sometimes on his days off, Hendricks said he takes Boomer into the office because his co-workers enjoy seeing the dog. In Boomer’s hometown of Hayden, Hendricks noted with a smile that Yampa Valley Brewing Company named a beer after Boomer. The brewing company even displayed Boomer’s beer on the beer board and posted a photo of him next to the name of the beer: Boomer’s Roasted Nut Brown.
“At home, Boomer is a regular dog, but when we go to work, he is always on. He is always ready to work,” Hendricks said.