When Madison Police Officer Rose Mansavage leaves for work, she loads not one but two police dogs into her unmarked squad car.
Martie, a 5-year-old Belgian Malinois (ma-lan-wah), who became Mansavage’s first canine partner almost four years ago, was headed for retirement after developing vision problems earlier this year. But he is still proving his worth as a drug dog.
Meanwhile, Martie’s replacement — an 18-month-old German shepherd-Malinois cross named Falko — flew back from Tarheel Canine Training in Sanford, N.C., at Mansavage’s feet in August. Mansavage is one of the first two members of the department’s K9 unit now training their second dogs. Officer Henry Wilson — whose canine partner Ivan recently retired after battling a life-threatening illness — is now working with Boris, an 18-month-old German shepherd.
Unlike Ivan, who spends his days at home, Martie continues to work with Mansavage while she trains Falko to be certified to track and apprehend suspects, search buildings and detect illegal drugs.
Ideally, Martie will remain on the job until he indicates he’s ready to retire, or until it’s no longer efficient to have two working dogs, said Mansavage, 34, a seven-year veteran of the force.
In addition to being her partners on the job, Martie and Falko are part of Mansavage’s family, which includes her 10-month-old son. "It’s definitely chaotic at our house," she said. "But Falko is fantastic with the baby," and Martie and Falko "actually get along really well."
The situation is a bit more challenging at Wilson’s residence. In early November, he brought home Boris after the two trained together for a month in North Carolina.
Now, Ivan — a 7-year-old German shepherd who rejuvenated Wilson’s career in law enforcement when the two became partners in 2007 — has to stay put while Wilson goes to work each day with the spirited young Boris.
"Ivan’s holding his own," Wilson said, adding, "He’s trying to let (Boris) know he’s in charge."
In other words, he added, "It’s like two little toddlers constantly at each other."
Unlike Mansavage’s two dogs, who have been trained to respond to basic commands in two languages — Martie in Czech, Falko in Dutch — both of Wilson’s dogs respond to commands in Czech, which can get confusing at times.
The Madison Police Department has six officers in its K-9 unit. The nonprofit organization Capital K9s raises money to pay for the purchase and initial training of a dog, which normally runs about $15,000, said Sgt. Chris Boyd said. The department received a discount on its two newest additions because of Ivan’s and Martie’s health problems, she said.
With all of its canines, Mansavage said, the department looks for dogs that are social — so they will interact well with people when they aren’t pursuing suspects — and have high drives and are willing to work for rewards, i.e., their favorite toys.
As Wilson puts it, Boris will smother you with kisses, but, "If I told him to bite you, he’s going to do it and enjoy it."
Wilson, 52, a veteran of more than 20 years, said he chose Boris because the dog was able to pull his 6-foot-5, 275-pound frame up a steep embankment during a tracking exercise "like a little tow truck."
"The thing I think with Falko was his vibrancy," said Mansavage, who was impressed by her new dog’s determination in getting a toy that was hidden in a microwave. "He’s friendly with everybody."
Both Wilson and Mansavage now have the knowledge and experience to take their new dogs to higher levels of performance, said Boyd, the K-9 unit’s trainer.
With Martie, Mansavage could direct him during a search using either verbal or hand commands, she said, adding, "We could move through the building and not be making a sound."