NEW CUMBERLAND - In police vernacular, they're known as K-9 units. But they're really just dogs with the added distinction of being a cop's best friend.
This week, the Hancock County Sheriff's Department lost one of its most valued enforcement dogs in the death of Rudie, a K-9 that had been assigned to Deputy Scott Gittings.
Rudie, a Belgian Malinois that had served the sheriff's department since 2003, was taken out of active service earlier this year and was living with Gittings and his family.
Hancock County sheriff’s Deputy Scott Gittings, with his K-9, Rudie, who died this week. A memorial service for the police dog will be held at noon Monday in Courtroom 1 of the Hancock County Courthouse. (Submitted Photo)
"He's pretty upset because that was his buddy," Sheriff Mike White said.
Rudie was one of four dogs in the sheriff's department's K-9 unit, but his advancing years forced his retirement. He was 11 years old.
"He was starting to get real slow. He was having trouble walking and moving around," White said. "We just took him out of service because ... he wasn't performing the way he normally did."
White said a veterinarian was consulted and determined that nothing could be done. "He was so sick that they had to put him down," he said.
Rudie came to the sheriff's department through Enforcement Canine Inc., formerly Beck's Canine Service, of Wilmington, N.C., a company that trains and provides K-9s for law enforcement agencies across the country, White said.
Enforcement Canine gets its dogs from Europe and trains them in the United States. White said Rudie was born in Holland.
The dog received about two years' training before being selected by the sheriff's department, White said. A lot of training and money goes into each enforcement dog.
White said the sheriff's department spent about $13,000 on Rudie, including the sale price and training. Deputies are required to do about six weeks of training with the dog, he said.
"Not all dogs make the grade to be K-9 dogs. There was a lot of time and effort put into it," White said. "The owners of the company hand-selected the dogs, and the selections were pretty top-notch."
Beligian Malinois, although smaller than German shepherds, are known for their excellent sense of smell, their tenacity and their speed, White said.
The sheriff's department used Rudie in all aspects of law enforcement, including patrol work, drug enforcement, searches, building clearances and demonstrations for children, White said.
"Kids got a big kick out of him. He did a lot of stuff for us," he said. "People don't realize how much they do for the officer and the sheriff's department."
K-9 dogs are especially useful in the apprehension of fugitive criminals. Oftentimes, suspects are more willing to surrender when they know that a K-9 dog is on their trail, White said.
"There's a big safety factor that's created by the use of the K-9. They can sound pretty fierce and bark pretty loud," he said. "Sometimes, all it takes is for the dog to bark, and the guy will come out. It's less dangerous for our deputies."
A memorial service for Rudie will be held at noon Monday in Courtroom 1 of the Hancock County Courthouse.