Ruffed up

Sunday, June 7th 2015

“Bring it,” I snarled at Kazi, an 85-pound German shepherd just seconds before he was unleashed. I braced myself for my first-ever “controlled” attack by a police K-9 but already knew on his full speed approach that I was no match.

Kazi hit me like a train, grabbing hold of my left arm, which was protected with a thick training sleeve. The next 15 seconds or so were a blur as Kazi shook my entire body like a rag doll. With a grip of several hundred pounds, there was no letting go despite my efforts to break free.

“Even if you did, you wouldn’t get very far,” said his handler, Officer James Pontbriand of the Barre City Police Department.

The crowd at my first annual CAWS 4 PAWS at the Barre BOR watched from outside the demo ring as Kazi immediately released me from his jaws and retreated to his handler upon command. The crowd erupted in applause and I tried to catch my breath.

“I’m an old man, Kazi … easy now,” I said into my microphone.

After a few more goes, it was time for us to rest. I took the opportunity to relay the experience to the crowd, beginning with, “You have no idea … and if you didn’t have this protective padding on, you wouldn’t want to know.”

Prior to this day I had always imagined what it would be like to be roughed up by a dog who meant business.

“Now I know,” I said to Trooper Joe Duca of the Vermont State Police (Rutland Barracks), who attended the event with his German shepherd, Buck.

“No actually, you don’t,” he said with a grin.

An hour had passed and another police K-9 demo was underway. A quick glance at Buck showed that he was significantly smaller than Kazi, and logic would suggest he’d be somewhat less aggressive, weighing in at just 55 pounds. Wrong.

“Be ready for this one,” Duca said before the attack. With my legs spread apart, I was ready for a linebacker, but again no match for a police dog. Buck shot off full speed ahead, eyes locked on mine, anticipating any last-second move I’d make. Just as I was quickly spinning away, Buck leaped and latched onto my left arm just in time.

This time I thrust my arm up and down and side to side, doing all I could to release this dog, all the while knowing I’d never be able to do that if Buck had my skin between his teeth. I gave Buck the best fight I could, awestruck by the sheer power behind his smaller frame. Again, upon command Buck instantly let go and returned as fast as he could to Duca.

The crowd was really starting to gather now for the second go-round and I admitted I was winded. Buck charged full bore as I gritted my teeth for the hit. Seconds away, the command was shouted by Duca. Buck slammed on the brakes and returned to his side, lying down.

Next, Buck approached but was commanded not to attack. This time Buck was instructed to circle me, barking viciously while watching every move I made. Even as a “dog guy,” this was a whole new feeling I had about canines. To say I was intimidated would be a gross understatement.

As the day went on with other demos including several impressive showcases of Vermont search and rescue, it was time for the final police dog demonstration of the day. I warned the crowd that if they missed the first few “shows” that this would be the last one of the day. “And this time I’m not fooling around,” I warned Buck into the microphone for all to hear. The crowd laughed.

“You’ve got me mad now,” I added, taunting his panting stare back.

Buck responded to several hand motions by his handler, barking with excitement. I was ordered to put my hands in the air, which I complied. But as I reached for something in my pocket, he was ordered to attack.

“Bring it, Buck,” I shouted into the microphone as Buck hit me the hardest he did all day. This time I lifted my arm as high as I could while spinning quickly around. Buck’s back legs left the ground and he spun with me, never letting go and only increasing his grip on my arm.

CAWS 4 PAWS, my first ever pet expo in Barre was an enormous success thanks to all who attended and to the many pet organizations and businesses who were there.

The following day I received a note from officer Pontbriand of the Barre City Police. A tumor was found on Kazi’s spleen, causing internal bleeding. He recovered from surgery just fine and has since returned home. But the day Kazi and I tussled was his last as an active-duty police K-9. He’s officially retired now with the title of “family dog” to Pontbriand. Ironically, Kazi and his handler were set up that day next to “Lacey’s Fund” which helps pay for medical expenses for retired police dogs.

Pontbriand wrote in the email: “It just brings to home how important organizations like Lacey’s Fund really are. Without them we would have had to pay for all this out of our own pocket. He’s more than a pet to me. He has watched over me countless times and deterred those who thought to do me harm. I owe it to him to do what I can.”

JD Green hosts “The Breakfast Club” on Froggy 100.9 FM. He and his girlfriend, Charilyn Williams, have started Paws, a central Vermont pet bereavement group. It is free and meets monthly at the First Church in Barre, Universalist. For more information, email him at froggybreakfastclub@gmail.com.

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