The West Linn Police Department recently shook hands with a new patrol officer - or rather, shook paws.
After nearly a year of research and community fundraising, the West Linn Police Department added a police dog to its force three weeks ago. The new K-9 unit will patrol the city with his handler, Officer Jim Doolittle, and act as an enhancement to Doolittle's regular police route.
Doolittle initiated the effort to add a dog to the police force and will care for the Belgian Malinois dog named Viggo.
The nearly four-year-old, male Viggo hails from Germany and is named after the Scandinavian word for 'battle.'
Viggo has a successful background within the Schutzhund dog training competitions in Germany. Schutzhund was developed in Germany in the early 1900s to test dogs for their abilities with tracking, obedience and protection. A dog must pass all three phases in one trial to be awarded a shutzhund title. Viggo holds a Level three honor through this program.
'Title three is the best. His scores reflect an extremely high obedience with protection and tracking,' said Doolittle. 'He competed eight times in Europe, half that time at an advanced level.'
Doolittle said that the department chose a dog from Europe based on the breed's reputation and attributes. The dogs are bred for training purposes and perform well as protectors, and are known for their drive and their personalities.
Doolittle and West Linn Police Chief Terry Timeus said they already notice that Viggo is approachable and obedient by nature. But in the police car, the dog is alert and in tune with his environment.
The canine-cop team is now training together in Eugene and West Linn in a basic police dog handler's class. At the end of the training Doolittle says Viggo will earn his Oregon Police Canine Association honor, after passing a series of more exercises and tests - including finding people in buildings, fields, brushy woods as well as obstacle courses and courage tests.
'He's passing his tests this week very well,' said Doolittle. 'He showed the responses we were looking for. … We wanted a mature dog with a solid temperament and the ability to be somewhat social.'
A patrol dog helps officers find lost or missing persons, searches for and locates items of evidence or controlled substances, tracks and searches for criminal suspects and makes school appearances representing the department.
Patrol dogs typically serve for seven years, Doolittle said.
'(I'm) working with another police tool which opens up the door for (the department) to be more effective,' Doolittle said.
West Linn is a scenic community with houses and buildings far from one another. Wildlife and water also surround the city, creating more places for criminals to hide.
'This is a great place for a police dog,' said Timeus. 'Dogs can do things people can't do, like find a guy that runs into the woods at night. With a dog you know you're on the right path (to track someone).'
Viggo will serve not only the city of West Linn, but also surrounding police departments in the county when needed. Before Viggo, if West Linn needed a police dog to aid officers, a nearby city with a K-9 unit was called - sometimes from as far away as Washington County.
'Time is of the essence anytime you're looking for someone because scents dissipate and if it's a high track area with cars, etc. We need a dog as soon as possible to have the highest success rate,' Timeus said.
And Doolittle said getting to know Viggo has been successful also.
'The sheer gratification of working with a life animal and making him part of the team is challenging and very rewarding,' Doolittle said. 'It's fun. Everyone at the police department is thrilled. It is even more rewarding than I thought.'
Members of the police department say they are anxious to add Viggo to the force to better serve the community.
'If this is cost effective and successful we may look at adding another dog in the future,' Timeus said, 'and I'm positive that it's going to be successful.'
Community members can meet Viggo Oct. 23 at 10 a.m. at Willamette Park in West Linn. Everyone is welcome.
For more information call the police department at 503-655-6214.