As the K9 officer in Osage Beach retires, another one gets ready for work

There has been a duty change within the Osage Beach Police Department, and a retirement is forthcoming.

After 6 ½ years, AJ is retiring as the department’s K9 narcotics and tracking dog. A ceremony is planned during the regular board of aldermen meeting Thursday night.

But the department won’t be without a K9 officer. Joining the department is Axel, a three-year-old German Shepherd who was born in Holland. As with AJ, Axel is handled by and lives with Senior Officer Sam Ford.

AJ isn’t going too far, however, since he was adopted by Bud Hyde, the city’s airport manager. His family lost a dog recently, and Officer Ford is delighted AJ has a new home within the city of Osage Beach family of employees.

“It was personal to me where AJ went,” Ford said, whose family has kept the retiring Labrador and Dutch Shepherd the last few years. AJ joined the department in February 2006 and for four years was partnered with Corp. Adam Benjamin.

Axel was imported into the United States and trained for work in law enforcement and the military. He was deployed to Afghanistan with the United States Army Special Forces.

“He’s a very quiet, docile dog that walks very softly,” Ford said. The senior officer speculated that Axel’s previous “career” required him to walk softly and quietly, yet be on the alert for the enemy.

“I’ve had to teach him how to bark,” Ford said, an asset that is important for crowd control and suspect apprehension.

As military service dogs are rotated out of service, they become available to other areas of law enforcement. Ford said the OBPD was looking at making a change in 2014, but learned through a K9 certification workshop here last summer that Axel and other dogs were available. AJ is nine years old, and Ford wanted to retire him so he could enjoy the remainder of his life with a deserving family.

After making contacts to obtain Axel, Ford took a whirlwind, 1,000-mile trip to Pine, N.C., over Thanksgiving.

“I wanted to get trained and bond with the dog, so he and I spent a lot of time together,” Ford recalled. “We drove home on Thanksgiving Day.”

Axel comes with full credentials including certification by the North American Police Work Dog Association and the Missouri Police Canine Association. While the retiring AJ was primarily a narcotics and tracking dog, Axel has that training along with suspect apprehension, handler protection and search and rescue.

“It’s more of a utility title,” Ford explained. “He’s trained in all phases of potential dog use.”

On his third day on the job, Axel found methamphetamine and marijuana in a vehicle.

“That was a pretty good way to start his career with us,” Ford said.

Police service dogs are unique in that on duty they are an extension of the officer. They are an officer’s partner. Yet, at home with a family, they are a family pet.

“I have a 16-month old son, Liam, and they love to sit nose to nose,” Ford said. “And Axel loves cheddar cheese. He’s a big part of our family. Off duty, he’s allowed to be a dog and a pet.”

He and his wife Joni feel totally at ease having a police dog in their home.

And, Ford says, Axel is an excellent representative of the OBPD on the streets, in the schools and at the shopping malls.

“Being an officer in Osage Beach is 95 percent public relations and 5 percent risk. We’re very customer oriented,” Ford explained.

But when the need arises, a police dog’s bark and ferociousness can be more of a deterrent than an officer’s presence. Ford cited instances during the summer at some local establishments when the threat of AJ’s involvement in a situation was a calming factor.

AJ has ended his career with the OBPD and a new, younger K9 will ride quietly in the back of Sam Ford’s SUV on alert for the next time he’s called to action.