Since his return to the force after being injured, Huntington Beach Police Officer Brian Tidrick's partner really has been spoiled with all the hero business.
"You really can't see much of a scar on his nose, and everybody's been pretty amazed about that," Tidrick said. "He gets even more attention now."
Of his partner, Rex, Tidrick added: "He kind of stares at them until they give him food. The guys have been feeding him pieces of cookies in briefing. He's a tough old dog."
For a tense moment last November, however, it looked as though Rex's days of biscuits and Alpo--not to mention catching criminals--were over.
It was a rather unlikely injury that threatened to snuff out the career of Huntington Beach's only drug-sniffing canine, a 100-pound German shepherd that has nabbed his share of narcotics and fleeing criminals.
Returning from a burglar-alarm call at an industrial building last Nov. 6, Tidrick let Rex out of the car to run through some drills on a grassy patch at the McDonnell Douglas Space Center. While Tidrick fetched a leash from his patrol car, 7-year-old Rex roamed about 25 feet away to a service road. Moments later, Rex was run over by a car.
"The first part of 'Rex!' came out of my mouth; he turned to look at me and got clobbered," Tidrick recalled. "The car went right over him. He disappeared underneath. Then he popped out the back end. Amazing. . . . The left side of his nose was completely flat. I knew it was broken, and he had a hole on the side of it."
Tidrick said he accepts partial blame for the accident. "I would have been a little irritated had he run off after I'd told him to heel. But I'd just sort of said, 'Come on, let's go.' "
Tidrick, whose only partner of the four-leg variety has been Rex, had worked for three or four years as a veterinary assistant before becoming a cop. The experience came in handy.
He wrapped a towel around Rex's broken snout before driving him to a nearby animal hospital. Because the vet's assistant had left for the day, Tidrick helped the doctor pull pieces of tissue out of the dog's nasal passage and wire it back together. He took the pooch home and then waited for the verdict, taking a vacation for a few weeks himself.
During the recovery, a reporter asked Tidrick's boss for permission to photograph Rex, who was intermittently wearing a plastic cone resembling an Elizabethan collar to protect the injury. "It looks like the old boy's going to make it," the canine unit supervisor said, but he denied the request in the interest of Rex's dignity.
"I'm sorry," Lt. Michael Biggs added, half joking. "He's been wearing the cone thing a lot. We wouldn't let you take a picture of him with the cone thing on because of the humiliation of it."
After weeks of recuperating, the veterinarian last month issued his verdict: Rex's sniffer could still sniff.
And so it was that on Jan. 8, Rex climbed back on his perch--a customized rear seat in Tidrick's patrol car, equipped with a water bowl, a rubberized flatbed and scores of paw scratches on the upholstery, a legacy of his many rides.
It was in that same seat that Tidrick realized that November day that his pal was going to survive, if not return to his glory days as Huntington Beach drug-sniffing canine.
"When he sat up in the back seat and was licking his chops," Tidrick recalled with a grin, "I knew he was going to be OK."
Now, things are just about back to normal, Tidrick said. "He's already been out on a dope (marijuana) case, so we're basically back in business."