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Police Therapy Pup Brings Some Bite to the Gig

'If you pick up a starving dog and make him prosperous, he'll be loyal to you until the end of time' — check out this new partner

I adore all animals. I especially love dogs. As an owner of one, I am partial to Siberian huskies.

As a retired cop whose “best friend” is the same breed, I thrill at the notion of a Siberian husky police canine, the newest member sworn into police service with the El Portal, Florida, police department in South Florida. I also wondered how suitable the breed is to police work, but EPPD found a way and named their newest member Arctic, a two-year-old, exotically marked Sibe.

Arctic is believed to have been abandoned on the streets. Without a home, and with karma guiding the way to salvation, a citizen found Arctic and brought him to the El Portal police building, where a police officer started the identification process. Taking him in and performing due diligence to reconnect Arctic with his rightful owner, then-police Sgt. Ronnie Hufnagel (she has since become the chief of police), exhausted resources. With the agency’s chip scanner, Arctic was checked for chip implants to determine his owner.

That was unsuccessful, leaving the El Portal cops without an identifier to locate Arctic’s owner.

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Bulletins were publicized in attempts to locate his owner(s) and reconnect Arctic, to no avail. Chief Hufnagel had the wherewithal to take Arctic on foot patrol as often as possible. The goal was to have him seen by the public in the hopes that by virtue of word of mouth or directly, Arctic and his owner would reconnect. Weeks went by; no one came forward.

Without anyone claiming Arctic, the El Portal Police Department became “the forever home” where a partnership was bonded.

El Portal PD, a small police agency of 27 sworn officers, officially added its 28th sworn public safety officer on July 25, 2017, the department’s first four-legged member. Arctic can’t deploy a taser, but his Caribbean blue eyes will likely mesmerize folks and make anyone think twice about poor decisions.

An extraordinary police commission. When I spoke to Chief Hufnagel, she intimated how the city manager agreed with her that Arctic would make a handsome addition to the El Portal PD and benefit the community. “Kids love him and he loves them,” said Chief Hufnagel, adding, “and we found victims of crime seem to de-stress better when he is around.” Not only the city manager but the city’s entire elected embodiment saw the dividends of having Arctic around and wholly got behind adding him to their community’s police force.

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The pedigree was part of the process of screening and swearing in Arctic. From her own pockets, Chief Hufnagel paid for Arctic’s swab test and ran it through a program called Embark, proffering a DNA profile. The results were that he is a pure-breed, youthful Siberian husky.

With El Portal city governance supporting and city residents/merchants welcoming Arctic, making rounds is now part of his duty on a daily basis.

Unique breed for police work. When it comes to police canines, Siberian huskies are not your common breed. Whereas the FBI opted to employ Siberian huskies in its contingent of canines, it is rarely used among law enforcement agencies. German shepherds, Belgian Malinois, Rottweilers, Dobermans, basset hounds, and bloodhounds are more-traditional police canine breeds with proven adaptability to perform police duties. Huskies, not so much.

Arctic can’t deploy a taser, but his Caribbean blue eyes will likely mesmerize folks and make anyone think twice about poor decisions.

Researching the Siberian husky breed as it relates to police efficacy, a pointed and accurate assessment I found on answers.com is as follows: “They could run off after a passing squirrel. The breed is too independent to blindly follow, so despite [Siberian huskies’] being smart and loyal … the [German] shepherd is just an all-round better choice” for police work.

Having a Siberian husky trained by a certified dog trainer, I concur with the assessment. No cop wants a canine whose habits are self-evident and prone to performing differently from traditional police canines combating crime. There is no room for error and no time for corrective measures when nasty human behavior is going down.

My husky is easily distracted, especially when he sees another dog to play with or, God forbid, a squirrel risking a ground-level foray for acorns. Sibes are generally known for one-track minds and, if off-leash without fence containment, take flight myopically. I’ve encountered that twice so far after failing to close the yard gate. Neighbors who knew where he belonged brought him back by the scruff.

But … just because Siberian huskies are not prone to conventional police duties does not exclude them from partnering with law enforcement.

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In marketing the idea of Siberian-husky-as-police-dog — El Portal PD’s first-ever canine member — Chief Hufnagel conducted research vigorously. “Their are only six Siberian husky police canines in the nation, and Arctic is the first one in the state of Florida,” Chief Hufnagel intimated. Unique breed indeed.

Therapy dog unit. As was written on the El Portal Police Department Facebook page: “If you pick up a starving dog and make him prosperous, he will be loyal to you until the end of time; that is the principal difference between a dog and a man.”

Arctic’s care and handling was initially assigned (read: volunteered) to Chief Hufnagel when she was a police sergeant. Carving the proverbial niche, Chief Hufnagel categorized the dog’s essential role as largely therapeutic. “He is great for the citizens, for our police officers, for anyone really,” she colorized for OpsLens.

“Arctic is not a bite, drug, bomb or sniff dog,” Hufnagel conveyed in a Miami Herald article. “Those dogs are not to interact with victims, residents, seniors, business owners. nor other members of the staff … but Arctic can. He can somehow make all of your problems, complaints and even your sorrow go away, if even for a little while.”

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Iro, my Siberian husky, does all those things and a whole lot more. He leans into sharp turns when in my car’s co-pilot seat. He reacts to movements while I am driving, compelling me to take note of things in my periphery — certainly a police trait, so it works. He adores children. His reach-up literally extends his paws to human shoulders, so he’s known as “a hugger” in the dog parks we visit. Awesome traits from a beautiful creature … but not exactly the attributes that chase, physically and/or psychologically pin down bad guys, or sniff drugs, or pick up on the trails of missing persons.

Like other dog breeds, Siberian huskies have incredible benefits to law enforcement officers and military veterans who are prone to PTSD stemming from exposure to chronic line-of-duty horrors. On the Working Dogs for Vets site, a Siberian husky named Steele is trained to provide “Compression Therapy” by laying his body weight completely upon his owner. A veteran suffering PTSD, Mandi, owns Steele, and “when she needs help staying grounded, her teammate will be there to help her through the end of her distress.”

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I can see the remarkable benefits dogs have with police officers and military vets. Both on-duty and off-duty, even into retirement, police canines truly continue to invest in humanity by way of unshakable service, resembling the very service-oriented reason cops and soldiers swear an oath to country.

Chief Hufnagel explains Arctic’s regular duties consist of public relations work: He visits civic centers, classrooms, nursing homes, crime watch meetings, citizens police academies, and generally anything that comes up on patrol. Having a four-legged public relations unit strides quite well among the citizenry. Naturally, having a furry colleague at city hall also helps defray the pressures of operating a local government, so the elected officials getting behind Arctic are wise benefactors.

Arctic’s in-service training was certified by Off-Leash Canine supplemented by in-house practicals conducted by Chief Hufnagel and staff. For the purposes at hand, Arctic has adapted well to behavioral obedience commands.

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So much to learn from animals. So much to be thankful for. And I have no doubt Arctic was brought to police service by his super-sensory olfactory attributes, which informed him that he was at the right cop shop. Blue (eyes) and badges go well together.

Nowadays, law enforcement agencies have a pretty large footprint in social media. Beautiful boy, performs a profound police role and brings people together … but can he tweet?

Stephen Owsinski is a retired law enforcement officer whose career included assignments in the Uniformed Patrol Division and Field Training Officer (FTO) unit. He is currently a senior OpsLens contributor, a researcher, and a writer. This OpsLens article is used with permission.

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