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Guilderland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, January 29, 2009

Rocky’s ready to take a bite out of crime

By Melissa Hale-Spencer

GUILDERLAND — Teeth bared, the powerful German shepherd lunged as Officer Donald Jones gave terse orders in German.

The dog, intent on his task, seemed unaware that he was on stage, observed by a score of attentive middle-school students.

He gnashed the padded arm of Investigator Kenneth Harrison, tearing the stuffed protective sleeve from him.

The shepherd proudly carried the souvenir of his victory to Jones as Jones told the onlookers, “Now Rocky thinks he ripped his arm off.”

Gales of laughter rolled across the hall.

“Bring it here,” intoned Jones and Rocky obeyed.

“That’s just some of what he can do,” said Jones.

He went on to explain about his well-trained dog, “He’s just got a job to do. When that job’s done, he’s your friend.”

The event Tuesday afternoon at Farnsworth Middle School was a homecoming of sorts for the shepherd.  When he was just a puppy, he had visited a club of animal enthusiasts there, the Guilderland Animal Protection Society. The GAPS members had held an election to pick a name for the dog and christened him Rocky.

Captain Curtis Cox told the kids that Tuesday’s event celebrates “Rocky’s journey from puppyhood through police K-9 as he officially starts on patrol as a member of the Guilderland Police Department assigned to his handler, Officer Don Jones.”

Cox credited Jones and his wife, Brenda — both dog lovers — for being Rocky’s “foster parents.”

Rocky is the department’s third police dog. Jones was also the handler for his predecessor, Niko, who died of cancer on Aug. 27, 2007 at age 9.

Cox traced Rocky’s heritage. Rocky was donated to the Guilderland Police by Dr. David Wolfe with the Shaker Veterinary Hospital. Wolfe owns Rocky’s father, Quin. Rocky’s mother, Sadie, lives in Westmere, and is owned by Kris and Tony Vogt.

Rocky was born on Aug. 8, 2007, the fourth of 10 puppies, and was selected for his potential to be a good police dog.

He has fulfilled that potential, said his trainer, Cathy Rogers, with the Interstate Schutzhund Club. “Schutzhund” is a German word meaning “protection dog.”

A trainer for 21 years, Rogers said she had also trained Rocky’s grandfather, Irk, who came from Germany, as well as his father.

“He comes from a long line of working dogs,” she said of Rocky.

The dogs are taught German commands, Rogers said, because “not everyone will understand them.”

This is useful in police work, she explained, because it’s unlikely that a criminal being pursued by the dog will know a command to stop him.

Rocky is trained, Rogers said, in tracking, obedience, and protection.

“It’s the ideal dog to go from a family to a school situation to apprehending a criminal,” Rogers said.

“Worth it”

Rocky proved that to be true on Tuesday afternoon as, moments after attacking Investigator Harrison on command, he hopped up on a table, also on command, and enjoyed being petted by enthusiastic GAPS members.

“He’s so big now,” cooed one girl before kissing him between his ears.

“He’s so soft,” said another girl as she stroked his long fur.

Jones, 40, smiled as the kids admired Rocky and answered their questions.

He recently gave up a promotion in order to continue to be the dog’s handler.

When asked why, he said, “It’s rewarding. I’m an animal lover.”

Rocky is trained to apprehend criminals, Jones said,  “to track people, whether criminals or lost kids, and to find narcotics.”

Asked how Rocky compared to Niko, Jones said, “You really can’t compare the two; each had his own traits.”

 Police dogs usually work seven or eight years, he said. Rocky has been riding with Jones since he was a young puppy, getting familiar with being a police dog.

He lives in Jones’s Guilderland home with his wife, Brenda, and their 11-year-old German shepherd, Rascal. Rascal was depressed after Niko died. “Brenda says Rocky keeps him alive,” said Jones.

Asked if it would be hard to go through the death of another beloved police dog — at the time Niko died, Jones said it was like the loss of a family member — Jones said, “It’s worth it.”

He went on, “It’s a valuable tool for the department. People that normally wouldn’t give up do because a dog’s there.”

Jones concluded of Rocky, “He deters violent crime and he’s also good at public relations.”

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