In today’s dog-eat-dog world, sometimes a cop needs some help from a partner with special abilities. Lodi police Officer Andre Belaski’s partner can chase a suspect and drag him to the ground with his teeth — but only if he’s let off of his leash.
No, Belaski’s partner isn’t a fellow human officer with a great bite; he’s a Belgian Malinois named Taz. A shepherd-type dog, Malinois are used exclusively by the U.S. Secret Service and are commonly found in police departments.
Taz and Belaski have been on active duty together for only a few weeks, but the pooch has been with the department for several months. The process of training a K-9 is a long one, and the Lodi Police Department handles it in-house.
“We prefer to buy a dog that has potential and train it ourselves the way we want it,” said Sgt. Chris Jacobson, who oversees the K-9 program for the department. “And the officer, as a secondary benefit, is working with that dog for four to six months and knows the ins and outs on how to train the dog.”
A trained dog is also more expensive. Jacobson said they can cost up to $10,000, while Lodi’s new dogs cost about $7,000.
“That’s probably a pretty good deal,” Jacobson said of the high price tag. “Dogs are super expensive now.”
Malinois are a little smaller than German shepherds, and are less prone to hip or shoulder problems. Taz is about 65 pounds, but don’t let his size fool you — Belaski said his partner is quite energetic and very effective.
“One thing I like to boast about it ... he’s very agile,” Belaski said. “He will leap an 8-foot wall, no problem. He’s very fast.”
Belaski started his law enforcement career with the Solano County Sheriff’s Department, and spent four years working primarily in Vallejo. He’s been an officer in Lodi for the last four years, and asked how he could get on the K-9 unit from the very beginning. Belaski said he has a family history of law enforcement, and has always wanted to work with a dog.
Belaski had to start the process toward becoming a K-9 handler by volunteering to “catch” the dog: Which is a nice way of saying wear a protective sleeve and let a dog bite you a bunch of times.
“I was out there playing with dogs for about a year before I got my own,” he said.
Taz is the third dog Belaski has had, due to some unfortunate circumstances with two previous dogs. The first dog did not respond well to training, and the second dog suffered a spinal injury that permanently disabled its rear right leg.
“We’ve had a real terrible time with our K-9 program as of late,” Jacobson said.
Police dogs typically live with their partners, and Taz goes home with Belaski every night.
“At home he’s just like any normal dog,” Belaski said. “I keep him inside, he plays with my kids, he plays with my other dogs.”
K-9 dogs typically serve four or five years before they retire, after which they often stay with their handlers. Belaski said he’ll have to purchase Taz from the city at the end of the dog’s career, and he plans to do so. Most handlers develop a very strong connection with their dogs, Jacobson said; Belaski is no different.
“There’s definitely a bond,” he said. “I see (Taz) more than I do my wife and kids.”
Contact reporter Fernando Gallo at email@example.com.