What Happens When a K9 Cop Misses His Target?

Tim Cotton

Tim Cotton | Oct 28, 2016

I wish I could share a happy story about dog and man, the close relationship between a police officer and his K9 partner. I wish it was something heroic. Maybe a mastiff that learned cardiopulmonary resuscitation while secretly watching YouTube videos and later used those skills to save the life of his human. I can’t.  

Looking for a heartwarming story about dogs learning CPR? So are we...

What I will tell you is a story about the night I used my 1984 Ford Bronco to cut off a fleeing suspect from running across a field to his freedom, and the subsequent situation that caused me to be scarred for life. There was a dog involved.

Ninja was primarily a German Shepherd but somewhere along the way to his pedigree a wolf stopped by. I don’t understand how Ninja became one-eighth wolf. But he was. This little tidbit of timberwolf was probably the part of him that made him seem irritated all the time, longing for the deep forest but relegated to the rear seat of a 1987 Crown Victoria. Vastly different environments. At least the Vic had power windows to bring a bit of the outside, inside.

I also claim no deep knowledge about police K9 training but I do know that Ninja hated firefighters. I know this because I watched him prove this on several occasions when he encountered firefighters.

"This little tidbit of timberwolf was probably the part of him that made him seem irritated all the time, longing for the deep forest but relegated to the rear seat of a 1987 Crown Victoria."

He hated turnout gear. I always surmised that it was the canvas-like material that the coats and pants were made from. It was much like the dog training suit and sleeve that I had worn on occasion when manipulated into being Ninja’s bad guy.

I like dogs, however Ninja terrified me.

When you are a rookie at a police department, you do what you are asked to do. There is no such thing as volunteerism. We always referred to it as being “volun-told.” It’s a word. My fellow officer and Ninja’s handler was my training supervisor.

When it was time for Ninja to stretch his legs or vent his frustrations, I was to put on the sleeve and run. You cannot outrun a dog. Ninja rarely missed the training sleeve. I say “rarely” because I had heard stories.

"You cannot outrun a dog." (U.S. Air Force Photo by Josh Plueger)

I went home at two a.m. on that particular shift. I lived inside the town limits and, as is in many small towns in Maine, my agency had one officer on duty between 0200 and 0600hrs. It was common to be called out of your home to provide assistance to an officer who ran into a situation that called for backup. Between getting dressed and getting out the door, I would be able to be at any situation in town within 10 to 15 minutes. If you have not been a police officer or first responder, that might not seem like a long time. Trust me, it is.

Officer White called for backup about half an hour after I fell asleep. When your phone rings, the first two seem like a dream and the next one wakes you completely, fearing that the first two rings were actually five rings. Attempting to sound fully awake, I knew I would hear the dispatcher, Suzanne, on the end of the line letting me know where to go. Usually, it was just to stand by on a scene after an arrest or to keep the evidence secure until it could be collected.

On this night, Officer White and Ninja were involved in a foot chase into a wooded area about two minutes from my house.

I grabbed the necessary items from the closet and jumped into my 1984 Bronco. Full size and four speeds mated to the most wonderful engine ever placed into a two-door SUV.  It was similar to O.J.’s Bronco. I think his was an Eddie Bauer edition. Mine was rusty. If an additional feature-laden package had been available from Ford, this would have been deemed the Eddie Munster edition.

Note the lack of rust on O.J.'s Bronco. (Al Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

I loved the 300 straight six. This one burned a little oil but that was a perfect excuse to open the hood on every other stop for fuel--just to look into an engine compartment that had room for more engine.

I headed down the road knowing exactly where White’s blue lights would be located in the early morning darkness. I saw his cruiser parked behind a vehicle in the typical traffic-stop position. The blue lights were flashing and the driver’s door and rear driver’s side door were wide open.  This meant that Ninja was also out of the car.

The suspect’s engine was still running with the driver’s door ajar. I jumped back into the Bronco and drove across the field. I knew the headlights could illuminate the suspect if he was in the open area. He wasn’t.

I could not see White or hear Ninja. Suddenly, out of the alder bushes, I saw a man making fairly good time across the field toward where the cruiser and the other car were sitting.

Making the assumption that this was the suspect, I felt that if I drove toward him to cut him off, he would stop and he could be taken into custody.

I was wrong and the man made some magnificent moves to avoid my smooth, Jim Rockford-inspired driving skills. Who could blame him? He was running from the police and all he saw was the two-tone blue Bronco that reeked of a helpful Mainer trying to get involved in something that was probably none of his business.

This 1978 Pontiac Firebird starred in the Rockford Files, but more importantly, served as inspiration for Sgt. Cotton's sweet driving maneuvers.(By Jeremy from Sydney, Australia. CC BY 2.0)

I stopped the Ford and bailed out while indicating in a loud manner that I was a police officer and that he should give up immediately. There was no sign of Officer White and Ninja at this time but I felt pretty happy that this would be over soon and I would be on my way home. The suspect had other ideas. He continued running.

Thankfully, he had been running for a while and I was younger and thinner than I am now. I caught him quickly and tackled him. Of course, his strong desire for freedom made him fight the young kid that showed up in a Bronco, wearing only uniform pants, a gun belt, and a partially buttoned uniform shirt. It was like a scene from The Andy Griffith show and I was Barney Fife. He was a scrapper but I was able to use some sweet moves to gain the advantage and ended up on top. He wasn’t quitting but he was now at a disadvantage.

Ninja was aptly named. I never heard him coming. Neither did the suspect.

Police Dogs at the Metropolitan Police Dog training Center in Kent, England learn stealth tactics from one of the masters.  (Paul Townsend/Flickr. CC 2.0)

My screams of pain, made directly into the face of the arrestee, immediately stopped him from fighting, and it became obvious that he wanted no portion of what I was serving. It is possible that he believed that he had been captured by a police officer wannabe that had pent-up aggression issues. Little did he know that Ninja had used his teeth to ruin the best pair of uniform pants that I had been issued. I am sure my facial expressions told a story that the suspect did to want to hear. I certainly did not want to be telling it.

A dog bite that happens quickly is painful. When the dog’s training causes him to hold on until being told to let go, the recipient of the incisors becomes a host to all of a dog’s pent-up aggressions. I was the host and Ninja seemed upset. He even shook his head a little to get his point across. Sadly, he hung on during that demonstration.   

It seemed like an eternity until Officer White realized that Ninja had buried his teeth into the left side of my seating area. I heard him telling Ninja to let go and felt the tugs on Ninja’s leather lead being transmitted into my buttocks through Ninja’s excellent grip. It hurt.

"It seemed like an eternity until Officer White realized that Ninja had buried his teeth into the left side of my seating area."

The instant removal of the dog's dentistry destroyed any dignity that I could demonstrate. I howled a little more and heard Officer White apologizing for his dog's misidentification and subsequent intrusion into my nether regions.  

In the meantime, the suspect was no longer fighting and as he looked up at me in the yellow glow of the Bronco’s now dimming non-halogen headlamps, I could see concern in his eyes. I do not think he felt bad for me but remained still because he was hearing the loud shouting of Ninja’s name and my obvious wincing.

After the dog released me, I handcuffed the suspect. He even asked if I was alright in a strange moment of bonding of what we had just gone through together. He realized that the dog's bite had been meant for him. In a way, his captor had become his protector. Ninja did not appear to feel bad at all about what happened. He returned to his seat and I returned to my home to bandage my own. I happened to live with a nurse and I knew that was one nurse too many to be bandaging my butt.

I am sure that the suspect has shared his story many times. Most likely painting me as a hero that saved him from the horrific bite that was his to receive. Possibly he raises a toast to me each time he thinks of his luck when running into me in that field.

I am doubtful.

As for me? My pride has recovered but I still use a chair to cover my scars.

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