Asked what he thinks of his accomplishments, the Inglewood Police Department's top athletic achiever cocks his head to one side and scratches his ear. He doesn't understand English very well.
But speak to him in German and he'll probably respond with enthusiasm.
Patrol Dog Welz is an 80-pound German shepherd imported from West Germany about three years ago for the Inglewood Police Department, which paid $5,000 for him.
Though Welz (pronounced Veltz) understands English phrases such as "good boy" and "nice dog," he responds only to commands spoken in German.
Won Gold Medal
Since joining the force, he and K-9 Officer John Bell have racked up an impressive string of dog training awards, including the gold medal at the annual State Police Olympics in Newport Beach last weekend.
Other Inglewood officers earned medals in track and field, power lifting, swimming and tug of war, but none fared as well as Welz. With a score of 296.9 out of a possible 300, the 4 1/2-year-old dog made an all-time high score at the two-day competition.
"He is an exemplary specimen," said Welz's importer, Tony Bairos, who imports dogs for law enforcement agencies throughout the country. "In human terms, you could compare him to someone like Bruce Jenner or someone who does the Iron Man athletic competition."
Welz wowed judges at the police Olympics with his ability to "sniff out even the faintest of scents" and his "lightning quick" run through a boot-camp-style obstacle course in which the dog had to jump over walls, crawl through tunnels and return to his owner at a leisurely gait, Bairos said.
Traits in Breeding
A thoroughbred, Welz comes from a genetic line known for agility, quickness and even temperament, Bairos said. Welz received 2 1/2 years of obedience and physical training in Germany prior to police training at Bairos' kennel in Bakersfield, where dogs learn protection skills and their handlers get a crash course in German commands.
"Welz and Bell would certainly rank among the best teams in the country," said Bairos, who cited an exhaustive list of awards the dog had received, including second place at the 1985 World Police and Fire Games in Redlands and top honors in West Germany's Schutzhund competition for protection dogs.
But Bell, a canine officer for 10 years, contends that he and his partner are at their best when patrolling the street.
"This dog is really special," Bell said. "There is this special silent bond between us. It's like he knows what I'm thinking, and that instinct has saved my life on more than one occasion." He recounted a time when Welz attacked a gun-wielding suspect and knocked the pistol out of his hand.
As one of four K-9 patrols in Inglewood, Bell and Welz perform searches for narcotics, firearms, suspects and lost children. The police dogs are also used to control crowds.
When not on patrol, Welz lives with Bell and his family. The two run three miles a day and hike in the mountains on weekends. "Some dogs are good at show competition, others are good at police work," Bell said. "Welz just happens to be one of those dogs that shines at both."