Niles post welcomes two new police dogs

Published 9:04 am Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Submitted photo Trooper Joel Service and canine officer, Pitch, are teaming up to fight crime in Berrien and Cass counties.

Submitted photo
Trooper Joel Service and canine officer, Pitch, are teaming up to fight crime in Berrien and Cass counties.

The Michigan State Police Post in Niles recently welcomed two new additions to its canine ranks.

The first is Pitch, a two-year-old German Shepherd trained to track suspects, located missing persons and search for illegal narcotics.

The second is Ki, a six-year-old German Shepherd trained to locate accelerants at the scenes of suspicious fires.

Both dogs are trained and managed by Michigan State Police Trooper Joel Service, who has been a canine handler for 17 years.

“I think it is so much fun to work with dogs,” said Service. “To me they are the perfect animal. Unlike people, they don’t get in a bad mood — they always want to please.

“I also love watching them work. There is no greater thrill than tracking a person down and catching them with the dog, knowing you probably wouldn’t have been able to do it otherwise. It is too much fun.”

Service said Ki is one of only two MSP canine officers trained in arson search.

While their primary patrol duties are in Berrien and Cass counties, both canines are available 24 hours a day to assist any police agency or fire department.

Ki and Pitch are Service’s fourth and fifth service dogs.

His first service dog, Aiko, was shot and killed while pursuing a suspect in 1998 in Flint.

“All of a sudden I heard a gunshot and saw the dog jump,” said Service. “I didn’t realize what had happened until a few seconds later when Aiko came running back to me and I could see he had been shot. He ended up dying about a minute later.

“When you talk about the bond you have with your dog — that was a tough thing to go through for me and the family. My kids were too young at the time to understand, but my wife had a tough time with it too. It’s not easy when something like that happens.”

Service said the suspect was eventually captured and is currently in prison.

Service’s second service dog, Nemo, retired around 2006 and went to live with another family. Dodger, Service’s third dog, retired in September and is living with Service at their home in St. Joseph.

Service estimates that Dodger helped locate around 60 missing persons or suspects in his day.

“He was regarded as one of the best dogs in the county,” Service said. “With their noses they are reacting to things we can’t perceive — it is phenomenal to watch them do the things they do.”

Service said it takes between 10 and 14 weeks to train a dog.

Pitch was purchased from the Von Liche Kennels of Peru, Ind., and completed training in December. Ki has been with the MSP since 2008, but was recently transferred to Service’s care.

The basic principle in training a dog, Service said, is rewarding work with play.

“All of our dogs have to have a very strong desire to play. When you start from square one you teach them if they find the odor they get to play with their toy,” he said. “If you repeat that over and over again the dog will actively seek out those odors because he knows if he finds one he’ll get to play.”

Service said he develops a strong relationship with all his service dogs. The typical canine service career is 7-10 years.

“We are put into stressful situation looking for people who could be dangerous — you are relying on the dog to keep you safe and the dog relies on you to keep him safe,” Service said. “Over the course of time, the bond that builds with the dog is very very strong. It is difficult to say the least when the dogs have to retire.”