Not every K-9 has the work ethic and skill to join the La Habra PD, but the department’s newest addition is proving to be a promising recruit.
La Habra PD this month welcomed Renzo, a 3-year-old Dutch Shepherd, to bring the department’s number of police dogs to four.
Renzo joins Prinz, a patrol K-9; Bobby, a narcotics detection English Springer Spaniel assigned to the Investigations Unit; and Rocky, a Golden Retriever who is a narcotics detection canine.
Renzo will hold down a beat with his handler, Officer Amsony Mondragon, while also being available to help neighboring cities including Brea, Placentia, Buena Park and Cypress.
“It’s very important to me that a dog is going to be a self-starter, and Renzo is,” Mondragon said. “His obedience is really good, but he’s still getting used to being out in the community.”
Renzo’s first shift on Sept. 12 included responding to a burglary reported at a local school where at least one suspect broke in and ransacked a couple of rooms, Mondragon said.
“The more scenarios we get him into, the better for him,” he said. “Anytime I teach him a new skill, he retains it.”
A constant reinforcement of Renzo’s skills is important to ensure the K-9 stays sharp.
On a recent Thursday, Mondragon and Renzo visited the park to work on some obedience training.
For Renzo, play is synonymous with work.
“I have to make it fun for him to want to be out here,” Mondragon said, before grabbing a toy out of his patrol car and tucking it behind a light pole while Renzo waited in the patrol car.
Renzo whimpered in the back seat, ready to do his job.
Mondragon let Renzo out, and the K-9 was keyed in to the smell of the toy, but his handler made him lie down in the grass and wait.
The K-9 stayed down, his ears perked up and tail ferociously wagging, until Mondragon gave the signal to search.
Renzo sprung from the grass and located the toy within seconds.
“Good boy,” Mondragon told him as he gave him a scratch on the head.
The game was part of what the 100-pound Dutch Shepherd learned in his more than 200 hours of training over six weeks.
Renzo also learned how to chase down fleeing suspects and work felony car stops, among other tactics.
New to the K-9 curriculum this year was a skill Mondragon hopes Renzo will never have to use: aiding an officer down.
The training included Mondragon pretending to be hurt on the ground, while Renzo circled him barking.
The K-9 placed his two front paws on his handler’s chest and continued to bark until help arrived, signaling the exercise was over.
“It was good to see his reaction,” Mondragon said. “He was being my protector.”
While Renzo proved he’d be a diligent guardian for Mondragon, his primary task at La Habra PD is to locate suspects, weapons and certain types of evidence.
A K-9 is a force multiplier, helping officers to more efficiently search areas and find people.
While it would take about an hour for six officers to clear a building, Renzo and Mondragon could do it in about 15 minutes.
“He is expected to save us between 500 and 800 manpower hours every year,” Mondragon said. “And sometimes it is safer for a dog to go into a building, rather than an officer.”
Mondragon said Renzo will continue to train weekly and he hopes to one day have the K-9 certified in drug-sniffing like LHPD’s other patrol dog, Prinz.
For now, the pair will continue to bond as a team and be ready when an officer calls for K-9 backup.
“One of the most important things we have to do is build a partnership,” he said. “We need to find that tune and be on the same sheet of music.
“He will take care of me, as I will take care of him.”
See Renzo in action on Saturday, Oct. 3, as he competes among dozens of other Orange County K-9s in the Toughest Dog Competition as part of the Orange County Police Canine Association’s 27th Annual Demonstration.
The event will be at 6 p.m. at Glover Stadium, 1151 N. La Palma Pkwy. Tickets: www.OCPCA.org.