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New K-9 Grads Report for Duty

Look for Chessie Ruckus and his partner Officer First Class Jake Coxon in Annapolis

Maryland’s newest K-9 units: Officer First Class Jake Coxon and Ruckus, Secretary Mark Belton, Department of Natural Resources, Corporal Brad Lowe and Harbor, Corporal Ben ­Lillard and Rider, and Colonel Robert K. Ziegler, NRP head.

At first glance, the scene at Sandy Point State Park on a bright June morning had all the earmarks of a typical graduation ceremony. Camera-toting family and friends eagerly faced a lectern where officials gathered, diplomas at the ready. But instead of strains of Pomp and Circumstance, barks and yips were the music of the day.
    Natural Resources Police was holding its first in-state graduation ceremony honoring three new K-9 handlers and their canine colleagues, who will be based in regions of Maryland. In addition, two K-9 units from Delaware received training in Maryland and also earned diplomas. Each of these K-9 handlers and their dogs completed nine weeks of intensive training in human scent tracking and in conservation work, uncovering poachers by detecting the scent of deer and turkey. As humans always leave a scent, these newly minted K-9 teams can now track a wounded hiker or lost Scout troop through tall grass and overgrown terrain.
    Estimated at from 10,000 to 100,000 times more acute than our own, our best friends’ sense of smell is simply astonishing. When conditioned to alert their human handlers to specific scents, these canines function as force-multipliers, saving precious time in search and rescue missions and in detecting poachers. They also often play a key role in gathering evidence for court cases. K-9 units become proficient in finding items such as weapons, spent shell casings and stolen goods tossed away by fleeing suspects.
    The canine members of each unit share certain characteristics: high energy, a need to keep moving, a deep reservoir of trust, dogged willingness to work and a delight in play. Their human counterparts share that high tolerance for hard work, invest lots of time into knowing and trusting their dogs — and like to play, too. When the dogs alert to various scents, their handlers immediately reward them with pats, high-pitched words of praise and play time.
    Maryland Natural Resources Police launched its first K-9 unit 22 years ago (that’s 150 years in dog years) and today have five regional teams, as well as a cadaver detection unit that operates statewide. The three newest canine graduates of the NRP’s K-9 Academy were all pound puppies donated by local Humane Societies in Harford and Kent counties. Harbor, a chocolate Labrador retriever, and his partner Corporal Brad Lowe, will be assigned to western Maryland. With additional training, Harbor should become proficient in alerting to the scent of bears. Rider, an agile hound-terrier mix, and his partner Corporal Ben Lillard, will be based in central Maryland.
    Ruckus, a Chesapeake Bay retriever, and his partner Officer First Class Jake Coxon, will be based in Annapolis and patrolling Anne Arundel and Prince George’s counties. Coxon hopes that Ruckus will eventually be certified in rockfish detection to help stem poaching in the Chesapeake.
    The faithful cooperation between human and dog in these K-9 teams is based on each partner knowing and trusting the other.
    “Ruckus and I are together 24/7, working and playing and coming home at night,” Coxon says. “He can get himself into trouble if he’s not worked, so I make sure he’s tired at the end of the day. When he alerts to a scent or retrieves an item, I reward him by tossing him his favorite squeaker ball. It’s like his paycheck.”