Dictionary definition of the noun “dog”: “A domesticated carnivorous mammal that typically has a long snout, an acute sense of smell and a barking, howling or whining voice.”
Hey! That doesn’t sound very flattering.
Last Friday morning, we made the acquaintance of one of these domesticated carnivorous mammals, one with smarts, talents and skills that some humans could envy. He’s a 9-year-old Czechoslovakian German Shepherd called Zarek.
(No relation — as far as we know — to your correspondent, despite the name similarity.)
Zarek’s “jail name,” though, is Zorro. He spends a bit of time in the Hudson County Jail — not that he’s ever been arrested. His record is clean.
Zarek/Zorro’s partner is Officer Luis Galvez, a county Corrections Department K-9 trainer. And both were guests at Kearny’s Junior Police Academy, where they captivated the 43 young cadets in the audience at Lincoln School.
The 2017 academy, for youngsters aged 11-13, began July 24 and ends Aug. 3, with a graduation ceremony. Sponsored by the Kearny Police Department’s Community Policing Unit, the program featured (among much else) presentations from county, state and federal law-enforcement agencies, “hands-on practice and physical training to give the students an idea of what training is involved in becoming a police officer.”
KPD Officers Jack Grimm, Steve Montanino and Vanessa Sevillano and Sgt. Adriano Marques were the staffers, organizing the events and doing marvelous work with the kids.
We wish we could attend every event, but time constraints force us to choose.
And this year, we picked the K-9 program, and (as always) were not disappointed.
Galvez’ talk ranged from what life is like in jail (don’t taste the food) to why misguided youth become gang members. “They think they’ll be protected in jail. No. Someone will rat you out because they’ll get perks.”
Zarek’s job at the county lock-up includes looking for contraband, such as drugs (he gave an impressive stage demo of sniffing some out) and flip phones, which can sell for $1,200 “inside.”
The dogs and their human handlers spend 16 weeks, eight hours a day, in K-9 school before they can join the unit. If a dog is then to be trained as a drug-sniffer, that’s another 8-12 weeks in narcotics school.
But the K-9s, Galvez noted, are not limited to the jail. They are now “dispatched all over,” working with SWAT teams, the State Police, Park Police, FBI, etc.
And often, what they will be hunting down is people.
Since human beings are “shedding” minute particles of skin all the time, “the dogs can track you for miles, they can go through water and not lose the scent,” Galvez said.
Do you know why bloodhounds are especially good trackers? Their large ears “flap back and forth, pushing the scent up into their nose.”
Did you know that the dogs trained to find explosives “can smell the gunpowder in a gun?”
We also learned that if a K-9 is brought to a criminal-vs.-cops standoff, things have come to a head. “When they call in the dogs,” Galvez explained, “there is no more negotiating.” At that point, most people give up, he said.
Zarek has learned to always watch Galvez’ back.
Literally, his back.
If the officer is walking forward, perhaps with gun drawn, the dog stays behind him, to insure no one approaches from the rear or the side. “He is trained always to protect,” the officer said.
A bit later, we got out of our seat to take a photo of Galvez addressing the cadets. We stood several feet to his left and slightly behind him, wanting an angle that would show him, the dog and the audience.
When we looked through the viewfinder, we noticed that Zarek — ears up, eyes staring — had turned to face us, which we thought was sweet. Until we heard Galvez remind the kids what he had said about the dog always watching his back.
“Apparently,” he commented, “the journalist here with us wasn’t listening.”
If I had been a cadet, I would have had to do 40 push-ups.