Among the ranks of the Bainbridge Island Police Department, there is now a new top dog.
She’s about a year old, weighs 80 pounds, and has a nose for crime.
The job can be ruff, but Whitney doesn’t mind if things get a little hairy.
The bloodhound puppy, BIPD’s latest K9, is set to be sworn in at an upcoming city council meeting. She was brought home from advanced training in Minnesota last month by her human partner, Officer Kurt Enget, and the dynamic duo have been working together throughout the past weeks, with Enget showing Whitney around Bainbridge and further testing her tracking prowess here on her new home turf.
“She’s pretty mellow,” Enget said of his new partner.
“When we get on a track, though, she gets excited. She knows it’s time to work and she’ll start whining and getting excited. It’s all fun for her. When she gets going after someone or she sniffs her scent article and she knows she’s going — it’s a big game for them and they get super excited.
“And then when they find the person, instead of a patrol dog who goes after them she’s like, ‘Hey I found the person I’m looking for!’ She’ll come up and kiss you and then she’ll want a treat.”
Tracking dogs, unlike the more common police patrol dogs, don’t hunt for drugs or explosives and they don’t attack, Enget said. Whitney’s primary duties will be to track fleeing suspects and missing people, especially lost children or elderly folks, possibly suffering from dementia or Alzheimer’s.
Right now, she can follow a trail that’s eight hours old without issue, regardless of the location or surroundings, and with more experience and training that timeline will stretch considerably. Multi-story buildings, shopping malls, dense forests — it’s all the same to Whitney.
“It is phenomenal to watch them track,” Enget said. “They sniff a scent article … and they literally go whoop and that’s it. Then, they’re gone.”
Another way she differs from patrol dogs is her motive. German shepherds, Enget said, are rewarded with a special toy when they do a good job. But for Whitney, it’s all about the snacks.
“I had to tell everyone don’t give her treats, because everybody wants to give your dogs treats,” Enget said. “Even at home I have to be careful not to give her any kind of snacks unless we’re doing other training.”
Whitney was discovered and initially trained by the Florida-based nonprofit 832 K-9’s Deputy Dogs, which specifically trains bloodhounds for police use. She will be the island force’s first K9 since Rusty, reportedly their first ever, who retired in early 2013.
During his career, Rusty conducted 219 searches — with 547 finds for drugs, cash or other items. His searches led to 181 arrests, 12 vehicle impounds and the seizure of $130,000 in cash, BIPD officials said upon the dog’s death in October 2015.
The process of acquiring a new dog began under BIPD’s previous chief, Matthew Hamner, prior to his departure, but at least two potential candidates washed out of the intense program before Whitney came along.
Enget, who never had a K9 partner before, said they’re learning the ropes together.
“There’s a ton that goes into it as far as doing lead control and watching her and trying to watch where I’m going — because she’s fast,” he said.
German shepherds are trained to pace themselves so as to not exhaust the human cops following, Enget explained. If the suspect has it in mind to resist, it does them no good to catch up exhausted. Bloodhounds, though, are not so easily tamed.
“With bloodhounds, it’s kind of a fine line because they want to run and if you slow them down too much it takes their drive away,” Enget said. “So you kind of have to have a happy medium with them, so I’m still trying to figure out her speed. It’s a little faster than a jog.”
Enget, who has been with the island department for nearly five years, and worked with the Suquamish Police Department before that, said he and his wife are longtime dog lovers. He’d always been interested in having a K9 partner, and though he passed up the chance to work with a patrol dog elsewhere, he quickly volunteered when the chance came around to work with a tracking dog here.
Whitney goes with Enget to work every day and lives with him, his wife and grown son — and their three other dogs — in Gig Harbor.
“My wife loves her,” Enget said. “We’re big dog people.”
It is in some ways a bit of a blast from the bast, he said.
“I just became a grandparent,” he said. “That’s great, but when your kids are done and grown and you don’t have to do any of that stuff anymore, it’s kind of nice.
“It’s like literally having another kid,” he laughed. “When I first got her she was up at all different hours because her world was turned upside down. Totally different hours, new environment, new people … and then she was peeing in her kennel at first, I had to get her out every couple of hours.”
The cop’s kid is a bit old to be jealous of the new baby, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a little friction there anyway.
“The only time I hear her [bark] is at my son,” Enget said. “She doesn’t bark at anything else except him.”
Still, the experience has thus far been rewarding and Enget said he’s looking forward to utilizing Whitney’s talents to aid the people of Bainbridge Island.
“It’s been good,” he said. “I really, really enjoy it. It’s very gratifying.”
Whitney will be “sworn in,” along with recently promoted corporals Joe Fastaia, Gary Koon, Cameron Lewis and Bill Shields, at the city council meeting at 6:15 p.m. Tuesday, May 14 at city hall.