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posted: 5/13/2014 5:30 AM

Aurora's new K-9 unit hits the streets

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  • Aurora police officer Enrique Rodarte and his K-9 partner, Kato, show how they sniff for drugs. When drugs are found, Kato gets to play with a blue toy as a reward.

       Aurora police officer Enrique Rodarte and his K-9 partner, Kato, show how they sniff for drugs. When drugs are found, Kato gets to play with a blue toy as a reward.
    Scott Sanders | Staff Photographer

  • Officer Mark Carey and his K-9 partner, Beny, demonstrate their tracking skills as they search for Beny's blue toy. The members of Aurora Police Department's newly resurrected K-9 unit are now on the job.

       Officer Mark Carey and his K-9 partner, Beny, demonstrate their tracking skills as they search for Beny's blue toy. The members of Aurora Police Department's newly resurrected K-9 unit are now on the job.
    Scott Sanders | Staff Photographer

  • Akroy shows off his badge with the help of his human partner, Matthew Bonnie.

       Akroy shows off his badge with the help of his human partner, Matthew Bonnie.
    Scott Sanders | Staff Photographer

  • Video: Aurora's new K-9 unit

 
 

From the second he jumps out of the police vehicle, Rex is ready to work.

The fourth dog in the Aurora Police Department's newly resurrected K-9 unit pays no attention to the members of the media who have come to see him on Monday afternoon outside police headquarters in Aurora.

Instead, the nearly 2-year-old Belgian Malinois actively sniffs the ground and soon begins pulling his handler, officer Aaron Spooner, toward an SUV parked on the side of building. It doesn't take long for Rex to find the bag of marijuana hidden under a floor mat inside.

Rex then gets his reward: He gets to do several pulls on a tug toy with Spooner, who tells the dog how well he did.

"In their mind, it's not the narcotics they're finding," Spooner explained after the demonstration. "They're finding their tug toy. That's what he works for. It's kind of his paycheck. He loves it."

After going seven years without a K-9 unit, Aurora police are excited about having four new dogs specially trained to sniff out drugs, locate items and track down bad guys.

Spooner and Rex and three other handlers and their dogs have been on the street for about a week. The other members of the unit are: officer Enrique "Rick" Rodarte and his partner, Kato; officer Mark Carey and his partner, Beny; and officer Matthew Bonnie and his partner, Akroy.

"It was kind of like being a rookie all over again," Spooner said of patrolling with Rex for the first time. "But once we hit the ground, we hit it running."

Lt. Nick Coronado, who oversees the K-9 program, said the department previously had five dogs. The last one, a 6-year-old German shepherd named Gunny, died in 2007.

Aurora's K-9 program had to go on hiatus due to budgetary constraints caused by the economic downturn. The department relied on K-9 units from other agencies.

While Aurora was "very fortunate" to have outside support, Lt. Rick Robertson said using K-9 units from other departments didn't always get the desired results.

"A lot of the time it was just because of response time or they weren't here," Robertson said.

So Robertson spent several years working to bring back Aurora's K-9 unit. The city was able to restore it after getting grant money to help pay the nearly $400,000 startup cost.

Robertson said the two Belgian Malinois and two German shepherds will be a valuable tool.

"Now that we have dogs working in Aurora," he said, "we hope that they will get used a lot more and have a lot more success."

Coronado said the four handlers were picked based on their prior experience, skills and work ethic. Carey said he was pleased to be chosen.

"I have always been a dog lover," Carey said. "So the dog experience wasn't anything new. The training experience was definitely different."

Starting in early April, the officers spent a month training in Michigan with the dogs.

Carey the dogs and handlers were matched by their personalities.

"The shepherds are a more low-key. They like to slow things down a bit," said Carey, whose partner, Beny, is a roughly 18-month-old German shepherd.

Bonnie said it was intimidating the first time he interacted with Akroy, a 21-month-old German shepherd.

"I was shaking a little bit," Bonnie said. "But by the end of that first day, you really kind of start developing that bond right away with the dog."

Rodarte said he's just grateful to have the opportunity to work with Kato, a 14-month-old Belgian Malinois.

Like the other dogs, Rodarte said his partner is driven.

"He doesn't like just sitting in the car," Rodarte said. "He wants to be working."

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