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Bainbridge police take a bark out of crime — but just temporarily

Rusty stands with his partner, Officer Dale Johnson, while being honored for his 8½-year service to Bainbridge Island as a narcotics dog. - Richard D. Oxley / Bainbridge Island Review
Rusty stands with his partner, Officer Dale Johnson, while being honored for his 8½-year service to Bainbridge Island as a narcotics dog.
— image credit: Richard D. Oxley / Bainbridge Island Review

The island’s most beloved — and adorable — officer has decided to kick up his paws and leave his career of fighting crime on Bainbridge.

Officer Rusty, the department’s K-9 officer, has retired.

Wearing his signature smile — a rather large one at that — Rusty was honored at the city council’s Wednesday meeting at city hall.

“We are going to miss him, especially that smile he has,” said Public Safety Director Larry Dickerson.

“Rusty is one of those unsung heroes,” Dickerson said. “He was trained strictly for finding narcotics. He’s done an outstanding job and he deserves a good retirement.”

Rusty spent 8 1/2-year career on Bainbridge Island sniffing for drugs and assisting officers on calls.

Standing aside his partner in the council chambers Rusty listened, along with the council, to a long list of his achievements. Rusty, however, was a little more interested in getting a pat on the head and perhaps a belly rub during the presentation.

Rusty’s career impressed the audience, to be sure.

The K-9 officer conducted 219 searches with 547 finds of drugs, cash or other items. His searches led to 181 arrests, 12 vehicle impounds and the seizure of $130,000 in cash.

“We had one incident when Rusty actually found a full pound of methamphetamine in a vehicle, which is a pretty large find,” Dickerson said. “And Rusty also found $45,000 in another suspect’s vehicle that a gentleman had hid in a secret compartment.

“He said no one would ever be able to find it. Rusty found it,” Dickerson said.

The dog also assisted other local law enforcement agencies, as well as the Drug Enforcement Administration and U.S. Customs.

Rusty was presented with a shadow box, a traditional display showcasing his badge, a Bainbridge Island Police Department patch, and statement thanking him for his service to islanders.

He was also presented with a bag of his favorite treats.

Rusty’s retirement party continued afterward in city hall’s staff break room complete with cake. The dog of the hour had a cake of his own and Rusty didn’t waste any time grabbing a bite.

Officers shared stories of Rusty and recalled his many career highlights.

He came to the Bainbridge police force in June 2004 after training with his partner, Officer Dale Johnson.

“He didn’t know anything I didn’t know anything, and they trained us together,” Johnson said.

The pit bull/brown lab mix was rescued from a shelter in Whatcom County. The Washington State Patrol selected the impressive dog for a career in crime fighting when he was just 1½ years old.

But lately, Rusty has been easing into a life of retirement at the tender age of 11 (that’s 57 in dog years).

The transition hasn’t been entirely easy. When Johnson suits up to go to work in his Bainbridge blues, Rusty now dawns a look of confusion.

For years it was the signal that the two partners where heading out to work, but now Rusty has to learn what to do with a day filled with free time.

One thing is for certain, he plans to spend more time with his family at the Johnson home.

“He tries to be on your lap, he tries to be on the couch,” Johnson said.

Rusty also plans to pay more attention to his collection of toy balls that he highly prizes. He has yet to find a ball that can hold up to the wear and tear he puts them through, but he still collects them anyway.

The police department won’t be without a drug sniffing officer for too long.

Johnson will train the next

K-9 officer, Victor Cienega, who will take over the K-9 program for the police department.

Cienega’s new K-9 partner has yet to be selected but will join the department later this year.

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