He works for tuna, playtime with a ball on a string and belly rubs. Lots of belly rubs.
The furry, four-legged member of the Statesboro Police Department is one of the newer recruits at the department, having worked just over a year now. K9 Smokey, donated by Michael Duncan of Southern Edge Kennels, joined the force last July, partnering with Advanced Patrol Officer Patrick Webb.
Just don’t let the floppy ears, sometimes-slobbering tongue and short time on the job fool you. Smokey the bloodhound is a tracking machine.
“The first on-the-job find stands out the most,” said Webb. “It was on Easter Sunday of this year. A 10-year-old with autism had walked quite some distance from the residence. Patrol had been looking for over an hour between rain storms before K9 Smokey and I arrived on scene.
“It was an indescribable feeling as we got within eyesight of the child and K9 Smokey was still working the scent with his nose to the ground. We were able to reunite the child with their family, and Smokey knew he had done something special with all the petting and love from the other officers on scene.”
Smokey’s favorite reward for a job well done is praise and physical affection, but he loves nibbles from the tuna pack that Webb keeps in one pocket, and he really loves playing with the toy Webb keeps tucked away.
“He’s become accustomed to the toy being in my pocket, so even on our off days when I’m not carrying, he will nudge my pocket to see if his beloved kong is in there,” Webb said.
When Smokey took on the role of tracking dog for the SPD, he became the third police dog on the force, joining the two narcotics detection dogs Rio and Mono. Rio is a 5-year-old German shepherd partnered with handler Kyle Briley and Mono is a 2-year-old Labrador retriever, partnered with handler Brice Scott.
Webb moved to Statesboro in 2011 after receiving his bachelor’s degree from the University of Louisville in Kentucky.
“I’d worked my way up from officer to sergeant, to a supervisor position, when the handler opportunity opened up,” he said.
Webb, who is the owner of a 7-year-old, 30-pound “mutt” named Reese, said he’s always been into dogs.
“People think K9 is the cool thing to do, but it’s substantially more work than I ever dreamed. But I wouldn’t change a single thing,” he said.
Smokey has been on the job practically since birth, as he trained for the first year of his life with Duncan before joining Webb on the force. After arriving in July of last year, Webb and Smokey began training together right away, and then went to Edisto Island in August for intense training in basics and in urban trailing.
“Odor falls off you like particles and sticks to grass and leaves and other areas,” explained Webb. “That’s basic tracking and it’s 80 percent dog and 20 percent me. But in the city, with people, animals, curbs, asphalt – that’s different. It’s 60 percent dog and 40 percent me. He’s gotta rely on me.
“We have to work together, to piece that together. I have to know where to cast him out to get odor.”
Webb and Smokey work with other members of the force as a team.
“My only job is to read the dog,” said Webb. “My cover man looks for threats while I give proximity alerts to the team.”
Webb said he and his canine buddy hit the ground running after training and continue to train regularly. Tuesdays are dedicated to intentional training, where all the handlers and dogs practice specific tracks.
“Each week, we address something. We lay out a track, sometimes recreating an actual case we’ve had, and then run the track and debrief, to see if there’s anything we’ve missed or need to work on,” Webb said. “The most fun I’ve had with Smokey is watching him learn through self discovery. The K9 team will set up a difficult task for him in a training situation, and while I may know the outcome, I let him work through it himself, and I can see his ‘aha’ moment when he pieces the puzzle together.”
Once a month, handlers and dogs train with SWAT on high risk tracks.
“They set up ugly scenarios to challenge us, me and the dog. It’s hard, a lot of work,” admits Webb. “We’re just now getting comfortable after working together a year. The coolest part has been seeing how so many have come out to help. Everyone wants to see Smokey succeed.”
Smokey’s role as non-aggressive tracking dog is to locate missing persons, like dementia patients that have lost their way and lost children, as well as to help with criminal activity when necessary.
One criminal tracking event took place near Georgia Southern’s campus.
“The impact sergeant had seen an individual with a warrant we had been seeking. He witnessed the individual take off through the alleyway in the complex. The sergeant called us over and once I cast K9 Smokey out in the area, he began showing trailing behavior through the complex up to a door where he alerted us.
“Once officers made contact at the door and the resident opened it, K9 Smokey nearly dragged me inside, wanting to follow the odor. We obtained consent from the residents and located the suspect inside the apartment,” Webb said.
When Smokey and Webb aren’t training specifically, they spend the day on proactive patrol throughout the city, initiating traffic stops, carrying out business checks and communicating with Statesboro residents with intentionality. Serving as supplement to patrol, the two can also shift to take calls for service or reports. They’re always on call, should the need for a narcotic dog or tracking dog arise.
Smokey and Webb are together 24/7, and their relationship is more like family than working partners, Webb said. “We’ve become so in tune to one another. There are days when it seems I’m not able to get anything going my way, and he will pick up on it and be much calmer and relaxed, which in turn calms me down. There’s also days when he is just not getting it and I know he is getting frustrated with whatever task at hand and I will just have to call it and let him calm down and relax for a while before we try it again.”
On occasions when the two are off the clock, Webb said he often takes Smokey on a walk or plays tug of war with his kong.
“On our off days we always get a really good walk in around the neighborhood, or we will load up and go to campus for a walk. Smokey will be entertained for hours with all the squirrels on campus. Smokey’s next favorite thing is tug of war, hands down,” he said.
The two are in sync, whether at home or at work, which makes for a great team, on or off the job. Floppy ears, sloppy kisses and playtime take precedence off the clock, but that all changes when Webb begins putting on his uniform for the work day or gathering his gear for a call out. Smokey goes into work mode immediately.
“I’m always excited for a call out,” said Webb. “I don’t think that will ever change, and Smokey and I train enough that we operate very well together.”
Smokey gets excited for the job, too, Webb says.
“He starts to get really excited when he sees me throw on my duty gear. If it’s a call that requires us to respond with lights and sirens, he will get even more excited and howl along with the sirens as we go. But as soon as we get on scene, he is all business and ready to work.”