Police losing ‘Buddy’ system | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Police losing ‘Buddy’ system

William Ferchland

Dan Thrift / Tahoe Daily Tribune / Officers Brian McGuckin and Buddy are retiring from the force after years together on the force as partners. They will be moving to Hawaii.

As officer Brian McGuckin spoke of his imminent retirement, his partner lolled on his back, glancing at McGuckin with wide eyes pleading for a pat.

When McGuckin leaves the South Lake Tahoe Police Department in June after 17 years of service, he’ll be taking Buddy, a Belgium shepherd, with him to Hawaii.

So instead of sniffing out marijuana, methamphetamine, cocaine, heroin, opiates and crooks, Buddy will be smelling pineapples and sugar canes.

It should be an easy retirement, but will likely take some adjusting time for both McGuckin and Buddy, and the police department, which only received one applicant to take over McGuckin’s canine handler role.

Dave Allen is the other canine handler for the police department.

“This is the best job going,” said McGuckin, who has an overall 28 years in law enforcement.

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As he spoke, Buddy searched for affection. The human and canine work well together, evident when Buddy leapt to his feet when McGuckin got off his chair. And again when McGuckin pulled a person to the front of his vehicle – in the same manner of arresting a wrongdoer – which instigated a spit of loud barks from Buddy inside the car.

The shepherd was exported from Holland and takes commands in a foreign tongue. He’s McGuckin’s only dog after Jerry, a German shepherd which had the wrong temperament for police work. McGuckin handled Jerry for about a year and a half during his early stages of being a canine handler.

While McGuckin is looking forward to diving and running in Hawaii, Buddy will be happy he’s sticking with his partner. Gail Clark, who holds a doctorate in psychology and specializes in canine behavior, said dogs changing owners or being alone during the day can suffer from separation anxiety.

“When I diagnose a dog with it, the dog is very stressed out when someone leaves and you can tell that by the panting that goes on,” Clark said. “There is a lot of pacing that might occur.”

Clark could only recall one instance a few years back when she treated a police canine. But the work dogs rarely need such examinations because they often retire with their handler.

Yet not taking helicopter rides to search for people lost in Desolation Wilderness, sniffing cars for stashed crack or searching for concealed bandits might lack excitement for a specialized dog.

Bob Eden, author of “Dog Training For Law Enforcement,” said such canines get excited when officers dress in uniform. It’s similar to hearing the car keys for a road trip, he said.

Buddy’s counterpart at El Dorado County Sheriff’s Department is 5-year-old Riker, a German Shepherd just arrived on the job with handler Deputy Damian Frisby.

“He’s active every day,” said Lt. Les Lovell. “We’re really happy to be back in the canine business in Tahoe.”

Riker took the place of Tracker, a highly specialized dog under the care of Sgt. Terry Fleck, who is now in Dayton. Fleck and Tracker still travel to teach departments on canine handling, but Fleck can see a difference in his prized dog.

“He’s bored to tears. You can definitely tell,” Fleck said.

McGuckin expects Buddy to be a little curious about why he no longer gets to ride in the back of a patrol car.

“It will be tougher on him because I’ll understand it,” he said. “He’ll wonder why we weren’t aren’t working anymore.”

Fleck guessed Buddy might end up embracing the Hawaiian lifestyle.

“Who knows? He might be surfing,” Fleck said.

– E-mail William Ferchland at wferchland@tahoedailytribune.com