DeKALB – The DeKalb Police Department’s newest cop can sniff out drugs, search for missing items or people and stop fleeing criminals – all on four legs.
Tac, an almost 2-year-old Belgian Malinois, was introduced as the city’s new police dog in October.
The department found Tac at a K-9 training facility called Vohne Liche Kennels in Denver, Ind., and bought him for $8,000 using money from community donations. He was imported from Slovakia.
“It’s just like having another kid,” said Aaron Gates, the police officer assigned as Tac’s partner. “It’s 24-7. He’s very high-energy.”
Tac is the department’s first police dog in two years. It could not afford to replace the last dog, Nick, when he retired at the end of his service life about two years ago.
But DeKalb Police Chief Gene Lowery made it a point to do so.
“A K-9 officer is such a valuable component in police agencies,” he said. “There are so many things it brings to the table that other officers don’t have the ability to do.”
Tac lives at Gates’ home with his wife and four children. When Tac isn’t working, he sleeps outside in a heated kennel in an enclosed yard or plays supervised with the Gates family.
Gates was chosen as Tac’s partner after an application process and a 10-week training session with the Illinois State Police Academy.
Gates will be required by state law to train with Tac for a minimum of 16 hours a month to work on facets of patrol work, Gates said. Training the young dog isn’t easy.
“One day, he’ll do great, and another, he makes me realize he needs a lot more training,” Gates said.
Gates is using positive methods to train Tac, who receives commands in Dutch. To get Tac to do something, Gates will reward him with a toy to motivate him rather than punish him, he said.
The department is already reaping the benefits from that training. Tac’s sensitive nose is trained to detect narcotics, such as marijuana, cocaine, methamphetamines and ecstasy; searching for anything based on the most recent human scent; apprehending criminals by grabbing their arm or leg; obedience; and tracking.
Tac already has tracked down and helped arrest two people accused of breaking into a laundry room and smoking marijuana, helped a woman find her lost keys, and found a man who was intoxicated and shirtless outside in the cold, Gates said.
The department hopes the dog will be used in searching for drugs in cars and lockers and in helping to find lost or missing people.
Tac also will be used in public presentations to teach the community about police dogs, said Lt. James McDougall.
“The officers love him,” McDougall said. “He’s a beautiful dog.”
Tac has also been used to help other police agencies, something the DeKalb police relied on when they didn’t have a dog.
Area law-enforcement agencies with K-9 officers include the DeKalb County Sheriff’s Office, Genoa Police and Northern Illinois University Police.
The department decided on having a Malinois instead of a German shepherd because German shepherds are prone to hip problems, Gates said. Tac will be able to work about two years longer, he said.
A K-9 officer can work for up to eight years, but departments are lucky if they get six years, Lowery said.
Gates said there’s still some work to do before Tac is considered a top dog on the force. Tac sits in the squad car with Gates every day while out on patrol.
“He’s very quiet,” he said. “I wish he’d bark more.”
Community donations helped fund the department’s purchasing of Tac. Contributions (in no particular order) came from Castle Bank, Kiwanis Club of Kishwaukee, University Plaza, Nikolaos and Lemonia Lekkas, Kiwanis Club of DeKalb, Illinois Community Credit Union, DeKalb Walmart, Deonicia Plagakis, American Midwest Bank, Maureen and Charles Buschek, Sam Finch of Ronan, Moore and Finch Funeral Home, James and Frances Miller, Nancy Lacursia and Laura Miller.