New Unified Police K9 Recruit

It was a bittersweet coincidence.  To set the background, a Salt Lake City Police Bloodhound named JJ changed the face of police K9 in the State of Utah.  He was the first extremely successful hound in our State and because of that one dog, the Salt Lake Metropolitan area has grown from one hound to over 16 bloodhounds in less than six years.  JJ became ill with cancer at the end of his career, but it didn’t slow him down.  During the year when he was being treated for a rare cancer, he made more than 50 criminal captures.

As we tried to replace JJ, and add to our cadre of bloodhounds, we found it very difficult to find true working hounds.  The show dog market seemed to have taken over the breed.  These extra-large, beautiful dogs just didn’t have the original drive, stamina and energy that police work required, and that the breed was originally created to accomplish.  Exhaustive research brought us Red Dog, a bloodhound mixed with coon-hound bloodlines.  This was designed to bring back our original working dog.  Red Dog worked for the Summit County Sheriff’s Office for about a year.  He was one-in-a-million.  At one year of age, he won 1st place at the Utah State Police Dog Championship, outdoing dogs with much more experience.  It was a sad day when we lost Red Dog shortly thereafter in a tragic accident.

Coincidentally, the Unified Police Department of Greater Salt Lake had made the decision to adjust our K9 roster.  We had two very accomplished bomb dogs but only one bloodhound.  Our bomb dogs kept busy but the every-night work of the bloodhound showed that by switching to two bloodhounds and one bomb dog, we could better meet the supply vs. demand balance.  Suddenly both the Summit Co. Sheriff’s Office and the UPD were in the market for good working bloodhounds.

Enter Sgt. John Kunkle with the Placerville (Old Hang Town), California Police Department.  I had worked with Sgt. Kunkle and his hound Hangtown Hank on a few occasions and I admired Hank’s calm, intense, relentless work.  A quick call later and I was in touch with Hank’s breeder.  Wellington Hounds is located just outside of Carson City, Nevada.  Kelley, the kennelmaster, is a true Houndswoman.  After an exhaustive interview with her, I was thrilled to hear her commitment of re-establishing the true working bloodhound.  Wellington Hounds is also a bloodhound rescue organization.

K9 Officer Jeremie Forman (Summit Co. S.O.) and I were on the highway two weeks later.  We had to get to Carson City on the day the pups turned eight weeks old.  All dogs have a “window of socialization” and Kelley was more than capable of socializing the dogs, but we work in a more urban environment and wanted to expose the pups to the noise, distraction, and smog of the big city as quickly as possible.

The number of high-quality pups that Kelley had available was staggering.  We had a very difficult time keeping track of which pup was which because there are only so many different colored collars available!  We finally eliminated all but three pups, not an easy job.  Jeremie finally selected Blue-Dog (he wore a blue collar) and I selected Fat Head.  Fat Head separated himself from the pack because he was confident, vocal and because he came over and said “hi” but then went off to use his nose to examine other interesting things.  He had a collar, some shade of red I think, but he had a big, fat, wrinkled head; hence the name Fat Head.  It was a difficult choice because there were so many qualified dogs.  We felt like we were in bloodhound heaven.

On the return trip, I received a call from one of our principle sponsors, Mr. Scott Brown, an attorney with Nuttall, Brown & Coutts, and a key member of the Lawyer’s Endowment for Accident Prevention (LEAP).  This organization recognizes the safety that our service dogs provide to our community and has provided several dogs for the UPD and for the Salt Lake City Police Department.  Somehow they are always there right when we need them. Mr. Brown called to ask if I would participate with him by addressing the student body of Butler Middle School to discuss career options.  Coincidentally, Butler Middle School students had previously donated considerable time to construct several detector dog boxes a couple of years earlier.  What an opportunity to expose students to Law Enforcement and specifically to Police K9 as a career consideration!!

Shell shocked Fat Head, on the first day away from his littermates, was suddenly being passed around the Butler student body. He got more love and attention than he had ever experienced before.  What a great experience for him!  Two days later, Starbucks sponsored a picnic for young cancer patients and their families.  Off to the West Jordan Park we went!  I didn’t see much of Fat Head at the park and honestly, he didn’t want to see much of me.  He was adopted by these children and their families and had the time of his life!  Again, the socialization opportunity for Fat Head couldn’t have been duplicated in any other way.  Many of the kids and their families will never forget Fat Head and his playful antics.

Both Blue Dog and Fat Head will soon receive proper names.  Both will have very successful and enjoyable careers in service to their respective communities.

Due to increasingly tightening government budgets, we must rely on our communities for support.  Please check our list of sponsors.  They are the people who understand the unbelievable return these dogs give on their investment in public safety.  If you are also a dog-lover who recognizes that the capabilities of these dogs will never become obsolete, even by the development of modern police technology, please visit our donations page and become a part of the successful careers of these animals.  They work for love, companionship…and oh yeah,…food. They do not work for a paycheck.  Please join our donor’s list and participate in the careers of Blue Dog, Fat Head and so many other dogs that work their noses off while you sleep in order to keep our communities safe!!

Officer Jon Richey

Unified Police Department of Greater Salt Lake

Special Operations/K9 Unit