Orange PD Sgt. Trevor Cullen remembers getting the call from the narcotics unit about suspicious packages at the mall. Arriving with his K9 partner, then-85-pound German shepherd Argo, he asked the detectives not to give him any details, just to allow them to work.
In under 30 seconds, Argo located the narcotics. After a search warrant was issued, officials discovered more than $2 million worth of marijuana.
“That was one of my favorites,” Cullen said. “It was completely based off Argo’s nose.”
That’s why police departments all over have embraced K9s — including Orange PD, which currently has two K9s (Officer Jude King’s German shepherd, Griffin, and Officer Damon Allen’s German shepherd, Bosco) and one more on the way next year. Orange PD’s K9 program began in 1981, and with nearly 30 dogs in the unit’s history, Cullen thought they should all be remembered.
Starting with the six K9 photos already up at the agency, and with Orange PD Chief Tom Kisela’s full support, Cullen coordinated a K9 wall outside the agency’s Emergency Operations Center, which gets a great deal of foot traffic because the center hosts an assortment of community events.
“You can’t go wrong with pictures of dogs,” Cullen said. Every K9 and handler in the agency’s history are now on display in framed photos along the wall (with plenty of room for more), including Cullen and Argo, who retired in 2013 at age 7 1/2 and is now “enjoying retirement” at age 11 at a slightly more rounded 100 pounds.
“I still have him,” Cullen said. “He got fat. But that’s OK, he deserves it.”
After a six-year career sniffing out drugs, apprehending suspects, and otherwise keeping the streets of Orange safe, Argo now spends his days playing with Cullen’s 2-year-old and his Jack Russell, and enjoying life.
The agency’s other K9s all have similar stories to tell – if they could – of catching bad guys and doing good work at their handlers’ sides in protection of their city. K9s risk their lives in their work and save lives just by their presence – and their rather intimidating bark. It’s typical, Cullen said, that a suspect surrenders after hearing that bark.
“The bad guys go to jail … no one gets hurt,” Cullen said.
Putting together the photographs for the wall took several months, and the wall was completed about a month ago, before the agency’s open house.
“The community loves the dogs,” Cullen said.
Cullen began the project by contacting all previous handlers. Many of them needed to find old photos stored in boxes, then scan and send them. In a stroke of good luck, Cullen learned that one of the handlers now owns a framing and photo business. He assisted in sprucing up some of the older photos, and printing and framing them.
“And that’s our new K9 wall,” Cullen said. “I spoke with all the former handlers and they were ecstatic the wall was going to be updated and their dog was going on it. I heard several stories of their dogs and could tell they have fond memories of what they did.”
Being a K9 handler is a fun job, but it’s also demanding work that requires commitment and dedication to the job and dog, Cullen said. The K9 handlers and dogs on that wall all worked whenever necessary, whether during their overnight shift or on their day off. Considering they are a limited resource, K9s are often called to assist on a case even on their days off.
“Even days that they don’t work, they’re training their dogs to be the best dogs they can be,” Cullen said of the handlers.
The wall now serves as a reminder of the good work of these officers and their K9s, and the sacrifices they may have to make.
“All of these dogs on the wall would give up their life for their handler,” Cullen said.