Foreign-Born Dog Soldiers

U.S. police departments, including the SFPD, shun American-bred recruits for their canine corps

But -- the controversy continues -- German shepherds from the mother country tend to be bred for more aggressive behaviors than American-bred dogs. And they're mostly trained to "find and bite" instead of "hold and bark," says Julia Priest, president of the Contra Costa County Schutzhund Club. Find-and-biters keep criminals from running away by chomping down; hold-and-barkers find criminals, bark to alert their handlers, and will only resort to eyeteeth if the criminal tries to bolt (note: The SFPD owns the find-and-bite variety).

"I had a police officer call me for help because he had a dog from Germany that would attack, but you couldn't call him off," says Ford. There's some prejudice going on here, Ford adds. "If it was an American dog that failed, you'd have everyone screaming about how terrible American breeders are and how unfit American dogs are," she says. "But that doesn't happen when it's a German dog."

Some police departments, adds Priest, decide they want to switch from the barkers to the biters -- and instead of retraining their dogs, they dump them and buy new ones. One department, Priest recalls, recently did just that -- and sent officers to Denmark to find new dogs.

Other hund-hunters buy dogs from as far afield as China. The man in charge of Adlerhorst International, the Riverside company procuring pooches for the SFPD, regularly travels to Europe to meet with breeders and their dogs from the Czech Republic, Holland, and Germany. The Chinese dogs present a challenge.

"We have to have an interpreter to give the dogs commands," says Karen Schroeder, Adlerhorst office manager.

So is all this a doggy boondoggle -- particularly considering the fact that the U.S. now holds a growing number of Schutzhund-trained dogs?

Absolutely not, say experts who routinely deal with police departments. In fact -- just to make this issue more confusing -- some believe the SFPD's $5,500 isn't nearly enough to buy a good dog. From overseas, of course.

"We've trained over 1,200 police dogs and supplied more than 150 police departments," says German, whose clients are scattered throughout the Midwest and the South. He says he goes for Germany-bred shepherds. "And I can tell you, you can't get much of a dog for $5,500," he says. "You really need about $10,000 for a good, dual-purpose dog," which can sniff out both bombs and bad guys.

Indeed, the money invested in these animals can be mind-boggling, says Priest. "I saw a really famous German shepherd," she says, "sold to the Japanese for half a million marks," or about $350,000. Priest believes the SFPD should only need to spend one-one-hundredth that amount for a Sendy replacement.

But the fact is, no dog could really replace the shaggy Sendy.
The dog died in a hail of gunfire just past midnight, Aug. 19, after a 52-year-old homeless man, packing a .357 Magnum, shot and wounded two fellow transients camped in Golden Gate Park. When police arrived, the suspect hid in some bushes, and Sendy was sent to flush him out. The dog did so without hesitation, but gunfire followed. Sendy, though shot several times, bit hard onto Thomas Patrick Wolf, who kept shooting: One bullet hit Officer Michael Toropovsky in the thigh, another hit a homeless man in the wrist.

Sendy's bites distracted Wolf and gave Toropovsky time to get away, says Capt. Minasian, who calls the dog a hero.

The long-haired German shepherd was buried at a simple ceremony; eight people attended. A plaque honoring Sendy will soon be installed at the Hall of Justice of the Police Academy. And the Police Officers Association has set up a Sendy II fund and asked for donations.

"What we are looking for is quality," says Capt. Minasian, seeking to reduce things to the simplest possible level -- where, in the dog world, they almost never stay. "What we need," he says, "is the best dog we can get.

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