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Orange County Focus

TUSTIN : When Partner Retires, Just Purchase Him

July 28, 1993|BERT ELJERA

After six years on the beat together, Police Officer Pat Welch knew exactly what to do with his partner: He bought him.

"That was the most natural thing to do," Welch said. "I've spent more time with him than with my family. I became very attached to him."

The partner is Ringo, a 10-year-old German shepherd, which has served with Welch in one of the Police Department's three canine units. The dog, used mostly for narcotics searches, was retired after Welch, an eight-year veteran on the force, requested a transfer to the patrol division.

The City Council last week approved Welch's offer to buy Ringo for $1. That means Welch will now be responsible for the $200 to $500 a year in expenses to maintain the dog.

"The dog will probably live another couple of years," Welch said. "The alternative was to put him away, but it was unthinkable."

Welch actually bought two dogs. He also got Bronco, a 9-year-old German shepherd. While he used Ringo for narcotics searches and raids, Bronco was his partner on car patrols for the past 2 1/2 years. The dog has also been retired, but Welch plans to give him to another police officer.

"It's just not practical to have two male dogs in the house," he said. He added that a police dog retains its instinct to be the leader of the pack. Two male police dogs mean trouble, he said.

As Ringo's handler, Welch took the dog home after their shift. So it would not be a problem for his family. But the dog is not a pet, and will not be treated as a pet, Welch said.

On the job, Ringo was aggressive, ready to attack a suspect when ordered to do so, Welch said. Last September, the dog found $158,000 in cash inside a box hidden in a closet during a drug search. In another case, despite getting knocked down twice, the dog helped capture a robbery suspect, he said.

But Ringo is a different dog at home, Welch said. Shortly after Welch brought the dog home for the first time six years ago, his son, Stephen, then 7, was playing baseball in the back yard. As Stephen hit the ball, Ringo would jump and try to catch it. Stephen accidentally hit Ringo with the baseball bat, knocking out one of the dog's upper teeth.

"I got scared when my boy showed me the tooth," Welch said. "But the dog just continued playing with him."

Welch said that between Ringo and Bronco, he used the dogs 2,500 times. Of those cases, 800 to 900 were "give-ups" when the suspect simply surrendered without any incident.

"The bad guy can tell the officer, 'Go ahead and shoot me,' " Welch said. "With a dog, it's different because he does not know when the dog will stop."

Police Chief W. Douglas Franks said the department buys its police dogs from Adlerhorst Kennel in Riverside, which imports the dogs from Europe. Already trained, the dogs are 3 to 4 years old when police acquire them.

"It's cost-effective," Franks said. "We save a lot of man hours. Dogs are very efficient in searching buildings, for example, where an officer may be at risk."

Welch said each dog costs about $5,500. Additional training for the dog and the officer costs $2,500.

"The dog is a working tool, like the gun in your belt," Welch said. "But it's also good company. I often talked to it in the car. I'm starting to miss that."

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