It’s a little after 6:30 a.m. on a quiet weekday morning when K9 Arlo, a 2-year-old German shepherd, struts into the offices of the Thurston County Sheriff’s Office Amtrak substation in Lacey.
Arlo’s paws and face are furry and big like a bear’s, but his smile and ears perk up like an innocent pup as he grabs a toy from Deputy Tyler Turpin. As soon as the toy makes contact with his mouth, Arlo begins thrashing his head side to side and spinning in circles.
It’s slightly menacing, but mostly adorable.
Turpin, 28, and Arlo are the fourth K9 unit to join the current ranks of the Thurston County Sheriff’s Office. The team recently finished up their first week of patrol, which included five deployments.
“For us, it’s been smooth sailing,” Turpin told the Nisqually Valley News at the end of their first week. “We’re both just excited to get out and start doing work and help get some bad people that need to be caught.”
Last April, the sheriff’s office announced it would be accepting donations to acquire and outfit an additional K9 unit to its team. The Thurston County Sheriff’s Office K9 program is fully funded through community donations.
After a few months, 400 hours of training and about $26,000 in donations, Arlo was ready to hit the streets.
Turpin said the first couple weeks with Arlo was all about bonding and building a foundation of trust before training started. Then, the team worked on basic obedience before adding advanced training, such as self-laid tracking.
Right off the bat, Turpin said he noticed a couple things about Arlo that made him the perfect K9 companion — he has a drive to hunt and he is extremely sociable.
But he’s not all work. The fluffy phenom also has a quirky personality.
“He’s a spaz,” Turpin said, recounting the first time he met the dog. “Arlo, when you meet him, he’s the nicest dog. He’s the happiest, easy-going dog that you’ll meet. He’s just a happy guy … To me, seeing how he works and how he interacts with people, he’s the perfect police dog because he loves kids, he likes people, but when it’s time to do the job, he does the job.”
Arlo, like all the dogs in the county’s K9 program, comes from a particular line of German shepherd heritage, Turpin said. Arlo came to Thurston County from Canada at about 7 months old.
Now at 2 years old, 100-pound Arlo eats about four cups of dog food a day, Turpin said. Because of their hulking size, dogs on the force get special pills to help with joint health and get regular checkups.
The K9 units perform important work for the sheriff’s office and other local agencies in need of their service. According to a previous NVN report, the sheriff’s office deployed dogs 141 times, and located and apprehended around 109 suspects last year.
Not all German Shepherds can do the work Arlo does. Sgt. Rod Ditrich, team lead for the K9 program who also oversees all the in-house training, said he estimates about one in every 100 dogs has the psychological traits, drive, focus and sociable behavior the team looks for in a K9.
“We won’t settle for less than exactly what we’re looking for … We just won’t compromise that,” Ditrich said. “And socializing a dog that can roll around the floor with kids is just as important as if they can protect their handler.”
Over the years, culture surrounding dog selection has changed, Ditrich said. Back in the day, departments used to just pick the biggest, baddest looking dog. But when that came back to bite officers — in some cases, literally — departments realized it wasn’t all about size and ferocity. There had to be some brains.
Today, police dogs serve a variety of purposes in tracking and retrieving perpetrators and evidence. They can also serve in public education and demonstration events, which Ditrich and Turpin both say is an important aspect of a K9’s job.
“He’s a gentle giant, is the lack of better terminology, is what I would call him. He loves his job. He lives, eats and breathes his work,” Ditrich said. “For him it’s just a game … This dog is going to be one of the best dogs we’ve had.”
Many around the community also recognize the importance of having a fully-funded K9 unit. They give back, often not just with donations but with services. Local veterinarians, such as Newaukum Valley Veterinary Services in Chehalis, have covered additional charges after applying pet insurance, Ditrich said.
“Being around K9s is the best job in the world. I mean, you get to hangout with a dog all day. I mean who doesn’t want to do that?” Turpin said. “He’s back there. He’s got my back, 24/7.”
Turpin said another reason he got involved with the K9 program was to go on more exhilarating and interesting calls. Turpin and Arlo get to travel all around the county and assist other agencies with calls.
As of Friday, Dec. 13, Arlo has been deployed on five calls. Shortly after midnight on Friday, Arlo even had his first capture. The call was to make contact with a wanted subject for a felony protection order violation, during which an alleged assault occurred.
“The suspect was located going out the back door and complied once K9 Arlo enthusiastically announced his presence,” Turpin wrote on a Facebook post. “Male was placed into custody without incident. Capture number one in the books for K9 Arlo.”