Sunday, 25 September 2022

Lakeport Police's K-9 officer prepares to retire

Max, a Belgian Malinois, is Lakeport Police's K-9 officer. He's going to be retired on May 1, 2009. Photo by Elizabeth Larson.



LAKEPORT – Law enforcement has a lot of important tools in the arsenal that it uses to protect the community, but one of the oldest and most effective may be the K-9. {sidebar id=138}

K-9 officers have been used for a long time in police work, and despite newer technologies, the working bond that forms between police dogs and their handlers continues to be a vital and life-saving force.

Such is the case with Lakeport Police's K-9 officer, Max.

Max is, indeed, just as much an officer as his human partner, Officer Jim Bell. He wears a badge and a vest, but doesn't carry a gun. He may have one up on Bell, since he doesn't have to do any paperwork.

But Max will soon be leaving the department. The department plans to retire him on May 1, said Bell.

Chief Kevin Burke said they wanted Max to retire at an age where he can have some time to enjoy life. Max turns 9 this month.

Like most departments in the city, Lakeport Police is suffering budget constraints that it hasn't seen in years.

The situation is so serious that last spring, as Burke – who also is now filling in as interim city manager – was crafting his department's budget, he eliminated Max's expenses altogether in order to cut costs.

Burke said the department is funding Max's expenses based solely on community contributions. But those contributions haven't amounted to enough to support the K-9 officer.

Burke said it can cost as much as $10,000 a year to cover Max's training, vet care and other expenses.

“At this point the donations have fallen far short of that,” Burke said.

The city's financial situation also throws the future of Lakeport Police's K-9 program in doubt.

With an aging fleet of patrol cars and two officer positions that are unfilled because of the city's hiring freeze, Burke said he doesn't know if he can continue to fund the K-9 program.

He said losing the K-9 officer will be tough on morale, but it's better than having to lay off a police officer if the budget challenges continue.



In the back seat of the police car, with his vest and badge on, Max is all business. Photo by Elizabeth Larson.



Partners and friends

Bell, 51, calls Max a very valuable tool to be utilized in law enforcement, making police work – such as searches and pursuits – more efficient and much safer for human officers.

Lakeport Police purchased Max, a Belgian Malinois, for $8,500 from Adlerhorst International Inc., a Riverside-based company that has a police K-9 academy.

Adlerhorst purchases dogs from breeders around the country and the world in order to find the right dogs to work with law enforcement.

Max was born in April 2000 in Holland. Bell communicates with him primarily in Dutch.

The department pays Adlerhorst an $1,800 annual fee to cover Max's certification. Every year, he must go through a two-day certification program. If he fails, he can't go back out on the street.

Bell joined Lakeport Police in July 2005, coming from Clearlake Police. He and Max were paired the following year.

Before he and Max became partners, Bell – who got into police work at age 40 – hadn't worked with a K-9.

And, he'll frankly tell you, the last thing he wanted to do was work with a police dog.




Jim Bell and Max hang out at home. Max is just a regular dog when he's off duty, said Bell. Photo by Elizabeth Larson.



“I'm not really a dog guy, I'm mostly a cat person,” said Bell.

Max, however, seems to have won Bell over. He's met his human partner halfway – he likes Bell's family cats – Topaz and Nugget – too, although he's not friendly to other dogs, whether they're civilians or working K-9 officers like him.

Before Max came to live with Bell in February of 2007, Bell built a special kennel with piped in heat and air conditioning, plus a dog run with a dog water fountain – a special spigot that Max can push on to get water.

Working with Max requires a lot of time for training, Bell said.

However, once he and Max began working together, "it was the best move I've made in my career," said Bell. "He's a great partner."

Locally, Max and Officer Bell attend regular weekly training sessions with other K-9s from the Lake County Sheriff's Office. There, they practice obedience, bite work, searches and tracking.

On a monthly basis, they travel to places like Chico and Paradise to work with K-9s and handlers in other agencies, Bell said.

Constant testing is par for the course, said Bell. It's critical not just for safety but also to protect the legal standing of criminal cases on which Max has worked. If his training slips a case could be lost or dismissed in court.

Being a big, strapping fellow, Max requires a fairly steady amount of chow, which means about $50 a month in Eukanuba dog food.






Bell said Max doesn't get human food. He does, however, get the occasional Milk Bone treat from Ellen Dills, the department's records supervisor.

Burke has been known to be pretty generous with the treats, too. Burke said he enjoys handing out the treats, and says the human officers don't have any room to complain, since they all get their own specially made birthday cake, make for them by Dills, each year. And they get to join in on eating everyone else's cake, too.

A workaholic K-9

Burke said he's never encountered a police dog with a better personality.

Max is, indeed, an unusually friendly K-9.

Common practice with police and service dogs is not to ever interrupt the animal during its work. That means no touching the animal – unless by their handlers – while on duty. Even when they're in off-duty mode, it's best to get a handler's permission first before attempting to touch the animals or interact with them.

During a visit with Max at the police station, when he's on a break, he'll let you know if it's OK to visit. While this reporter waited, he introduced himself with some sniffing and a rub on the leg, before plunking down on the floor and playfully rolling over onto his side, inviting a friendly pat. He also invited a bit of play with his favorite item, a rawhide chew, which he loves to fetch.

Bell said that Max likes being around people, although he's not great around kids. He was, however, a hit at a student assembly this past spring at Terrace Middle School. There, during a graduation ceremony for the department's DARE program, Max demonstrated his acumen at finding a toy gun that was hidden from him to wild applause from the children.

Max is a typical workaholic, and is eager to be on the job. When he's not working, Bell said Max likes to hang out and sleep in a special doghouse at Bell's home.

When his police gear comes off, Max is clear that it's time for rest and recreation, said Bell. He's up for a friendly game of fetch or just hanging around with Bell, his wife Robin, and their cats in front of the fireplace. He's also happy to accept lots of pats and attention from visitors.

"He's just a regular dog" at times like those, said Bell.

But it's easy to switch him from friendly puppy dog mode to bad guy chaser.

Max is known locally for a characteristic important to police work. "He has a very, very vicious bite," said Bell.

Bell shows some pictures of deputies who have trained with Max, wearing the heavy padded gear to protect them. One man's skin looked like it had been peeled from his back, despite the protective gear. It isn't a pretty sight, and it's another example of how powerful a law enforcement tool a K-9 like Max can be.

Watching Max play fetch with Bell at the park, one can get an idea of how fast and effective he can be. When he takes off running after his rawhide chew, his massive body hits top speed and seems to almost glide over the grass. It's the kind of effortless performance you'd expect from a top athlete. There's no way anyone is going to outrun him in top gear.

Bell said Max looks at work like it's play. "His whole thought pattern is, 'This is a blast.'"

Max definitely appears to be focused on his job. He may even fit the definition of an adrenaline junkie. While riding in the back seat of Bell's patrol car, Max gets so excited when he sees another police car that he starts to bark.

Bell said Max makes him feel safer on the job, especially when they're out on the graveyard shift.

"I never thought I would have been this bonded to a dog, but he's my buddy and partner," said Bell.

What's ahead for Max and the K-9 program

The decision about whether or not Lakeport Police's K-9 program will continue will depend on the final city budget for the 2009-2010 fiscal year, said Burke. The budget will be completed over the summer.

Once the new budget is adopted, Burke said he'll calculate the replacement costs and see if there's room for a new K-9.

Meanwhile, Bell and Max intend to remain together.

Burke said Bell is going to buy Max from the department for $1 and keep him as a pet.

The biggest challenge that Max will have in retirement is not being able to get into the car with Bell when he leaves for duty. When that car's engine fires up, Max is ready to go.

“He gets pretty keyed up when it gets time to go to work,” Bell said.

E-mail Elizabeth Larson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..



Bell said it will be a challenge not having Max with him at work after he's retired on May 1, 2009. He said in the two years they've been together Max has become his partner and friend. However, the two will stay together after Max retires, since he'll make his home permanently with Bell and his wife, Robin. Photo by Elizabeth Larson.

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