REDDING, Calif. - They have got bark, bite, and tenacity for catching criminals. Two added K9 officers are patrolling the Northstate.
"He's a very smart dog. So he'll test me quite a bit," said CHP officer Dirk Lambert, handler of K9 Arras. "You know, I have to stay focused constantly when I'm working with him."
They are skilled, four-legged crime fighters – even multilingual.
"The majority of K9's that are used by law enforcement, specifically the highway patrol, are bred overseas," Lambert said. "Most of them come from European countries. So as soon as they're able to understand commands, they're normally taught in a different language. When they come overseas to the US and they get put into service they get trained by a law enforcement agency we continue that so it's not confusing to the dog."
They may have been raised overseas, but they are joining the police force with the California Highway Patrol Northern Division.
Both of the new handlers are working with K9's for the first time.
"It's almost like a completely new job," said CHP officer Collin Lowry, handler of K9 Edo. "You have to learn so much more than the average officer. It's almost starting all the way over again."
It has been about a month of work now for the two new teams. Lambert and K9 Arras, along with Lowry and K9 Edo, graduated July 25 from the CHP Academy in West Sacramento after an 11-week training course. The dogs are dual-trained, experienced in narcotic detection and handler protection canines.
German Shepherd K9 Arras is more than a year old and based out of the CHP's regional office in Redding. Belgian Malinois K9 Edo is 4-years-old and works out of the CHP's Mount Shasta office.
The teams are paired to perfection according to CHP Lt. Scott Fredrick, who coordinates the K9 program.
"It definitely is a new challenge but I think a lot of our officers are looking for a new challenge," he said. "These particular officers have a passion for apprehending criminals - violent criminals - but also finding narcotics and ridding those drugs off the streets."
The dogs are trained to sniff out illegal substances including marijuana, cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamine.
"They save a lot of officer injuries, and being able to apprehend suspects for us so that we're not going hands-on, wrestling and fighting with suspects," Fredrick said. "They're an invaluable tool with the sense of their smell for locating drugs that we wouldn't otherwise know were there."
But it is not always a winning situation for law enforcement. This is K9 Edo's second go-around after a medical hiatus.
K9 Edo was on the scene of a shootout on Interstate 5 in 2011. Albert Anthony Smith led officers on a high-speed chase October 27 near Castella in Shasta County. Smith eventually stopped the car and opened fire on law enforcement. In February 2013, Smith was found guilty of premeditated attempted murder and 24 other counts resulting from the shootout.
K9 Edo was shot on the foot. One of his toes had to be amputated.
He did not lose his doggy determination.
"The biggest thing was re-training a new handler with him since his old handler retired," said Lt. Fredrick. "We had to then go through the whole training program with them again. Psychologically, the dogs react differently but Edo seemed to react well to getting back to work."
K9 Edo is back to his old self with Officer Lowry.
"From my perspective it hasn't changed him at all. From what I understand, he was a great dog before and he's still a great dog now," Lowry said. "For him it's basically just making sure that he's not sensitive to loud noises, or he's not scared, or he's not timid and afraid to do his job. So it's kind of like having to go through all the paces again to make sure it didn't affect him at all."
The teamwork is solid. Handlers and dogs go home together after a hard day's work, living under one roof and 24-hour care.
"It is like having another child in the home," Fredrick said. "So I've got to give it to the handlers, you know, babysitting these dogs."
And if the handlers get their way, it will be a lasting relationship.
"I would love to retire as a K9 officer," Officer Lambert said. "It just depends on the health and the life-span of the dog. Typically these dogs, from what I'm told, will be able to have a career of anywhere from 5-10 and maybe even 12 years. That would be great with me."
As for the funding of the K9 training, the program is financed entirely through money seized from criminal operations, according to CHP officials. Coordinators said it falls under federal and state asset forfeiture laws, the same legislation that is helping the Redding Police Department to finance new lapel cameras for its officers.