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Shelby County’s newest deputies are more than just partners: They live together, hang out together and fight crime together.
What’s even more unusual is they communicate using German on the job.
Deputy Mark Richards and his K-9 partner, Ranger, joined the sheriff’s office in July.
Sheriff Mike Armstrong said it’s a great advantage to the department to have a trained dog, especially because he didn’t have to shell out the average of $20,000 to purchase a trained police dog.
“He came with Mark, so that was a big plus,” he said. “They both are excellent assets for us, and we are tickled to death to have both of them.”
Richardson and Ranger, a 4-year-old Yellow Labrador Retriever, have been together for the past three years.
Richardson, 47, originally from Shelby County, said he joined up with the sheriff’s office after retiring from Louisville Metro two years ago, because he had been working for the University of Louisville Police Department and just wanted to come back home.
A dog handler of 12 years, Richardson has worked with three different dogs, a German shepherd, a Belgian Malinois and Ranger.
“I always knew when I got into police work that I wanted to be a dog handler,” he said. “I like the activity. I like working with animals, and besides, you’re always in the middle of big things when you work with dogs. When you’re younger, the activity is what attracts you, but once you start working with dogs, you realize there’s nothing greater in the world than having your partner all the time.”
Ranger is his dog, he said.
“When we’re off, we hang out and relax, play Kong, a rubber toy that he likes to chase,” he said. “He enjoys just being part of the family. He stays with me all the time.”
On a typical working day, Ranger rides in the back of Richardson’s patrol vehicle in a specially designed unit, that looks similar to a pet carrier.
“He has a spill-proof water bowl in back. He’s probably more comfortable than I am,” Richardson said with a chuckle.
When asked if they eat lunch at the same time, Richardson explained that the dog doesn’t eat while he’s on the job but has a meal as soon as they get off work.
What happens if Ranger has to go to the bathroom while they’re on the road?
“He lets me know that because he’ll start whining,” Richardson said.
A certified dog scent detection trainer, Richardson said that dogs trained for police work can be trained to sniff out a variety of different things, from cadavers to explosive devices to drugs.
Ranger specializes in drugs.
Dogs are used in the military to detect landmines and other devices, in the civilian arena by private companies, sometimes by exterminators to detect bed bugs or termites, and even by customs’ officials to detect drugs or currency.
“If there’s something out there that can be found, there’s probably a dog out there that that’s trained to find it,” Richardson said.
Richardson acquired Ranger from a friend of his from Virginia with whom he worked on Louisville Metro PD but who left the department to start his own dog-training business.
Police dogs usually are taught commands in German, and Ranger is no exception, responding to such oral commands as sit, stay, down, come and search.
But Ranger also responds just as ably to more subtle language, Richardson says.
“Animals don’t really understand words as much as they do body language and tone of voice and gestures,” he said. “I kind of like to relate it to kids. Like, ‘Hey, let’s go play, or you’re in trouble.’”
Ranger draws a lot of attention when he takes him out of the patrol car to stretch his legs, Richardson said.
“People always want to pet him, and they’re always saying, ‘Oh, isn’t he cute?’” he said. “Well, he is cute, but I have to warn them that he’s a jumper. One time he jumped up when I went to pet him and he hit me under the chin and almost knocked me out.”
Armstrong said that public aspect of having the dog is also a plus for the sheriff’s office.
“We take him to the schools, and other places, and people just love to see him and learn about him,” he said.
Richardson said he could not discuss specific cases on which he and Ranger have worked together in Shelby County because those cases are still ongoing.
Armstrong said, in general, the dog already has been a great help as a narcotics agent.
“He has helped us several times already with narcotics cases,” he said.
“In the past, at Louisville Metro, I have used dogs to help find people lost in the woods that needed medical attention, caught bank robbers as well as numerous burglars,” Richardson said.