The dogs are usually purchased from vendors who acquire them from Europe where they are raised by competitive dog-training clubs, Shinn said. The dogs still have to undergo additional training once they reach Chapel Hill.
“The basic school to get them out on the street is 14 weeks,” Shinn said.
“That is just teaching obedience, tracking, how to do building searches, how to look for drugs, what kind of response we’re looking for and how to do an apprehension.”
The department’s K-9 unit began in 1990. Since its inception, the department has trained more than a dozen dogs and handlers to detect narcotics and assist with searches and fleeing suspects.
The K-9 dogs live with their handlers and often become a part of the handler’s family. After the dogs reach retirement age, they typically live with their handler for the rest of their lives.
Shinn said a police dog performing an apprehension, when a dog bites a person’s leg, is one of the most powerful popular images of a K-9 unit in action.
“It slows the person down and gets them to comply,” he said.
Shinn said the dogs are valuable for their tracking abilities in more delicate situations as well.
“We are actually able to use them for Alzheimer’s patients or a 5-year-old who has wandered away,” he said.
The cost of the dogs is somewhat offset by private donations earmarked for the K-9 unit, Shinn said.
In addition to these donations, the K-9 unit has received some canine bullet-protective vests in the past from a nonprofit organization called Vested Interest in K-9s.
The organization, which provides stab and bullet protective vests for law enforcement dogs throughout the country, donated vests in January 2013 for Jax and Kearney, two active dogs in the department.
Dogs have to meet certain criteria, such as being 19 months old, to be eligible for the donated vests, said Sandy Marcal, owner of the nonprofit.
While the safety vests are useful, especially when the officers know a suspect is armed, Shinn said the dogs don’t wear them on a day-to-day basis because their weight tires the animals quickly.
Shinn said a trained police dog is ultimately a long-term and worthwhile investment.
“It’s nice to have that loyal partner that is going to protect you and be a deterrent as well,” he said.