by Mike Hodgson
When an armed robbery went down early in the evening Nov. 2 in Santa Maria, the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office’s newest K-9 team was among the units that responded to the area of West Orange and South Pine streets.
Although they’ve officially been on duty since Oct. 22, it marked the first real callout for Duke and handler Deputy Brian Scott, who were joined by the sheriff’s K-9 team of Deputy Mike McNeil and Magnum to search nearby yards for the suspect and weapon.
“I thought it was successful,” Scott said last Friday, taking a break with Duke at Pioneer Park on West Foster Road in Orcutt. “We ended up locating the gun under some bushes.
“That same night, they believed there was a residential burglary in progress,” he continued. “So we went from the city off to a residential area. Then we were called out Sunday with the CHP in Lompoc.”
After a California Highway Patrol officer stopped a vehicle, four of the five occupants fled into thick chaparral near the Mission Oaks neighborhood, prompting a search by CHP officers and sheriff’s deputies.
By the time Duke and Scott arrived, all the suspects had been apprehended and the last one was being brought out.
“We went out in the brush anyway, and I let (Duke) feel like he found (the suspect),” he said. “Being young, it’s good for him to feel like he accomplished something.”
Of course, Duke was rewarded for “finding” the suspect.
“He knows he’ll get a reward afterward, and it’s his toy,” Scott said. “Everything he does is stimulated by his toy.”
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A 3-year-old German shepherd who weighs in at about 75 pounds, Duke and Scott have been training and working together about eight weeks.
But Scott, an 11-year veteran of the Sheriff’s Office who has three dogs of his own, said he’s been training with K-9s for the last five or six years and recently attended “agitator school” to learn how to work with dogs.
“Working with K-9s over the years, I found it rewarding to see the bond handlers had with their partners,” he said. “Somehow I wanted to be part of that.
“I tested for the position of K-9 handler, and I was lucky enough to be awarded a position. I was paired with Duke.”
Duke was born and raised in Germany, where he received his initial training. Then he was sent to the English Police Dog Academy in Oxnard for additional training.
Before hitting the streets together, Scott and Duke completed a five-week, 200-hour patrol school.
Duke is now trained in apprehension, scent recognition, open area searches, building searches and handler protection.
“Eventually, as the classes come down the line, he’ll be cross-trained in hard-surface tracking and bomb detection,” Scott said. “He’ll be trained in detecting explosives.”
Duke will become the bomb-detection K-9, and Magnum will be the narcotics detection K-9 for the North County, complementing Senior Deputy Ken Rushing and partner Aco and Deputy Phil Farley and partner Odin, who will be the bomb and narcotics K-9 teams in the South Coast area.
With four patrol teams, the Sheriff’s Office now has a K-9 unit on duty 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
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Scott said having four K-9 patrol teams has been a dream in the Sheriff’s Office for years, but the department never had the money necessary to add a fourth team — until the Sheriff’s Benevolent Posse and a South Coast couple stepped up to help.
“Duke was purchased solely by donated money,” Scott said. “The Sheriff’s Office doesn’t generate money, and our budget is slowly being taken away. Without the donations, it would never have been possible to have four teams on the streets.”
Carpinteria residents Reece and Christine Duca, who also own three dogs, watched in February 2017 as a sheriff’s K-9 team located two suspects hiding under their house.
“Seeing the Santa Barbara sheriff’s K-9 teams in action is something we will never forget,” Reece Duca said. “Sheriff’s deputies simply cannot do all of what the dogs can do.
“Had the canines not located and apprehended the fugitives, who knows what would have happened that night,” he said.
Wanting to help the sheriff’s K-9 program, the Ducas made a large donation to the Sheriff’s Benevolent Posse’s Project Deputy Dog program, which provided the additional funds to purchase and train Duke as well as a County Jail narcotics K-9 that joined the force in July.
“The Duca family is truly paying it forward,” said Richard Kline, president of the Sheriff’s Benevolent Posse, which provides funds for equipment the county’s budget doesn’t cover. “They personally experienced a situation at their home, and when they heard of the need for an additional K-9 team for Santa Barbara County, they stepped up to help make it possible.”
As a token of appreciation for their generosity, the Ducas were given the privilege of naming the dog.
Christine Duca said she picked the name Duke for sentimental reasons.
“I wanted the name to be something special,” she said. “Duke is a term of endearment I use for my husband. I couldn’t think of a better name for an amazing animal that helps all of us."
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Scott said he feels the bond with Duke growing stronger every day, and the dog is becoming better at reading his handler’s attitude and state of mind.
“He’s with me 24/7,” Scott said. “He comes home with me, and he’s either in his kennel at the house or he’s with me. … We train continuously. We train every week.
“He’s always on alert when he’s in the car,” he said. “But he knows when something’s going on. You can tell. He becomes more alert. … He knows, ‘OK, it’s time to go to work.’
“He’s not only there for my protection but, also, [for] my partners and the people of Santa Barbara County.”
Despite having worked with K-9 teams for years and his recent training, Scott said actually being paired with a dog on the streets is a new experience.
“It’s a lot different,” he said. “I was in the major crimes detective bureau. I’ve been in an office for four years. Coming back in patrol is a nice change.”
But, as he expected, it is a rewarding experience.
“He’s awesome,” Scott said. “He’s a great dog.”