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Sheriff patrol dog breaks century mark

Varro, a German Shepherd, last week captured his 101st crime suspect
by: Jim Clark  Varro, a member of the Multnomah County Sheriff K-9 unit, just made his 101st capture.

By Sara Hottman

staff writer

Varro ran through woods and blackberry bushes, over fences and across streets, following a suspect who fled police late in the afternoon on Thursday, April 11.

Finally, with the highly trained German Shepherd on his heels, Scott Michael Smith, 19, wanted for seven felony and four misdemeanor crimes, surrendered to authorities, making him Varro's 100th capture.

Varro patrols East County for the Multnomah County Sheriff's Office, one of three K-9 units; he's the only patrol dog with two drug dogs. Officials say the specially trained dogs dramatically improve officer safety and are force multipliers, with their superior senses, speed and intimidating presence.

'There are people who will take on 10 cops but don't want to take on one dog,' said Deputy Todd Weber, Varro's handler. 'I don't know if it goes back to prey versus predator and it's like a primal thing. … People just don't want to get bit.'

Weber has been handling police dogs for eight years, and has had Varro since he joined the force in October 2005. One of his goals was to reach the century mark with Varro. On Thursday, he beat it.

Century mark

Around 3 p.m. Thursday, Varro and Weber assisted the Portland Police Bureau in capturing Smith, of Portland, who ran from his car stopped around Northeast 146th Avenue and Glisan Street, Sheriff's Lt. Steve Alexander reported.

Smith was accused of two counts of being a felon in possession of a firearm, two counts of first-degree theft, possession of a stolen vehicle, unlawful use of a motor vehicle, two counts of reckless endangerment, attempt to elude police by vehicle and attempt to elude police on foot, and reckless driving.

He is being held without bail on a parole violation.

Later in their shift, Varro assisted sheriff's deputies in capturing Peter Paul Belanger, 38, of Portland, who was wanted for Clackamas County and Texas warrants, Alexander said.

Belanger ran from a stolen vehicle stopped in the 1300 block of Northeast 183rd Avenue, Alexander said. Varro found him hiding in a stairwell at an apartment complex on Northeast 186th Avenue.

'On a K-9 unit, you find that your dog finds someone where you wouldn't fathom someone trying to hide,' Weber said. 'Varro has found people in attic insulation, blackberry bushes. He found someone hiding under water one time.'

Belanger, Varro's 101st capture, was charged with second-degree theft and failure to appear, and is being held at the Multnomah County jail on three warrants.

K-9 unit

Since he joined the force 6-1/2 years ago, Varro has procured about 20 captures annually, and has two or three more years before retirement.

'It's an awesome assignment,' Weber said. 'All the guys and gals in K9 love what we do. It's an honor to do what we do.'

Varro is Weber's partner, so each swing shift - afternoon and night duty - the two patrol their district in East County and assist other law enforcement agencies with tracking.

'Some nights he doesn't work at all and sometimes he gets multiple tracks,' Weber said.

Unlike drug dogs, who hunt for concealed drugs, 'there's a courage element when patrol dogs are taking on bad guys,' Weber said. 'He has great skills. … Even when some guy is sitting there in handcuffs, they'll say, 'Man, that's a cool dog.' '

At the end of the shift, Varro goes home with Weber.

'(Police dogs are) your partner, your buddy. You're responsible for them 24/7,' Weber said.

At least once a year Varro and Weber re-certify as a team with the Oregon Police Canine Association. They're certified for obedience, testing verbal commands while distracted by other dogs; patrol, attacking a man in a bite suit to test biting and non-biting responses; and search, locating a hidden person.

Weber will continue working with Varro as long as he's healthy.

'I want to work with him as long as I can,' he said. 'Once he retires he'll stay with my family as a pet. … He's a family member to the agency. He's a family member to me.'