Hospital Donation Ensures Added Protection for Area's K-9 Officers

October 23, the Nevada Highway Patrol's drug interdiction K-9 was injured in a shootout on Interstate 80.

Gripper was in his kennel in the back of Trooper Tim Raabe's patrol vehicle when the shooting began. He was hit with multiple pieces of shrapnel, including one piece that is still lodged in his body.

Thankfully, the 5-year-old Belgian Malinois is back on the job following his recovery.

"He's been phenomenal," said Trooper Raabe. "He bounced right back."

But Raabe and handlers of the area's other three K-9 officers said the incident brought home how vulnerable their dogs are.

Humboldt General Hospital officials said when they heard about Gripper and his lack of protection, they had to do something.

"I thought it was such a shame," said CEO/Administrator Jim Parrish, "that shouldn't happen. Canine officers should be protected along with humans."

Tuesday, December 3, Humboldt General Hospital presented the NHP's Gripper, Zyla and Boots from the Humboldt County Sheriff's Office, and Duchess from the Winnemucca Police Department with canine bullet proof vests.

At a cost of $1,200 each, the vests don't come cheap; however, Parrish said the hospital has a duty and obligation to protect its protectors.

"We need a strong law enforcement presence from the city, county and state," Parrish told a small group of officers from the three agencies.

"I have several hundred people here every day that are at risk, and we are so appreciative of all you do to help protect the hospital."

As to the K-9 officers, donning the vests for the first time wasn't as dramatic as some of the handlers thought it might be.

"She's wearing it way better than I thought she would," said Humboldt County Sheriff's Deputy Lee Dove of Zyla, a 3-year-old Belgian Malinois.

The dog did make one escape from the vest before Deputy Dove ordered her to sit and put on her new protection—which she obediently and promptly did.

"We have a great bond," said the deputy. "She is a total family dog, but really great on the job."

All four dogs are trained to identify marijuana, meth, cocaine, heroin and ecstasy—and they can do it in anywhere, even in a very large crowd; Deputy Dove said the K-9s' sense of smell is 50 times that of humans.

Boots, a female "pound puppy" turned K-9 officer takes her job very seriously, according to handler Chris Aker with the Humboldt County Sheriff's Office.

Aker's wife, Ellen, found the dog in December 2005 on East Winnemucca Boulevard. The couple kept the dog as a pet until three years ago when the Sheriff's department was looking for a drug dog.

Now, Ellen Aker said the Border Collie/Queensland mix is still the family dog—until she puts on her badge. "Then she puts on a different personality," said Aker. "She starts growling and barking."

Gripper, Zyla and Boots are referred to as "single-purpose" dogs, in that their primary function is to drug interdict.

Duchess, a 6-year-old Dutch Shepherd with the Winnemucca Police Department, is also a community protector and partner to Officer Elizabeth Hill.

The dogs are invaluable members of their departments, the officers agreed. "You're looking for certain qualities for a dog to be a good officer," said Trooper Raabe.

That's all the more reason to protect the K-9 officers, said Jim Parrish.

"It takes so much to get them to this place," he said. "We want to do everything we can to ensure their safety."