By Allison Pascoe
After seven years of protecting Edmonds from would-be criminals, police dog Rocky has retired.
Rocky and his handler, Edmonds Police Officer Shane Hawley, teamed up in 2004 when Rocky was only a pup. The duo had to complete many hours of rigorous training. A major challenge? Learning how to communicate with one another, Hawley said.
“You have to read their body language,” he explained. “We look at their tail, breathing and the way their nose is working the ground or not, coupled with environmental factors, and it takes a long time to sync up as a team. You almost become one with the dog, it’s like a symbiotic relationship.”
A major factor in a K-9 unit is the bond between the dog and handler. “It’s more than just a pet relationship,” Hawley said. “I’ve been on tracks with him and he has bailed me out of situations where I would’ve been hurt.”
Through the years, the relationship between Hawley and Rocky hasn’t always been business. On days off, Rocky enjoyed being a regular dog, running around in Hawley’s backyard and playing fetch.
During their career, Hawley and Rocky tracked more than 100 suspects and “spent probably close to 15,000 work hours by the time we were done,” he said. Each track varies in length and environmental circumstances, from climbing onto a rooftop to diving through blackberry bushes. “Nothing is off limits to suspects. Any place the suspect goes, we follow,” Hawley said.
Teaming up as a K-9 unit can be a very tedious task, but the benefits outweigh any challenges. Police dogs “are genetically designed to smell,” Hawley said. “The benefit of K-9 teams is people will hide anywhere, they will be out of sight and without K-9 those suspects would definitely get away.”
Hawley recalls one of their most memorable cases: He and Rocky had to track down a suspect who stabbed his girlfriend multiple times. The suspect fled an apartment building on foot, but Rocky was able to flush him out of some bushes and apprehend him in the middle of a nearby parking lot. “It’s always rewarding to catch a suspect like that, who wouldn’t be caught without the dog,” he said.
Rocky’s years on duty took its toll, as he sustained multiple injuries. “He is no stranger to the vet clinic,” Hawley noted. As a pup, Rocky had a growth in his elbow that had to be surgically removed and he also survived a life-threatening surgery for a stomach injury. At a training conference, Rocky’s tail was broken when it was accidentally caught in a solid-steel door, and unfortunately had to be amputated. Yet even with a broken tail, Rocky was able to persevere and catch a suspect who was responsible for multiple burglaries.
“It’s amazing what they will work through to do their job, even with a broken tail,” Hawley said. “I don’t know if I could have run that trail with a broken foot.”
While Rocky fully recovered from his injuries, in December 2010 he suffered some significant muscle tears in his back legs — a sign that it was time to retire. “He is more than willing to work, he’d probably love to come back to work, but the leg won’t allow him to do it,” Hawley explained.
While the K-9 duo made a very successful team, their accomplishments would not have been possible without the help of others in the Edmonds Police Department, Hawley said. “The success that we had is collective of the teamwork and dedication of everyone else,” he said, adding that his colleagues “have put a lot of time into helping us with training and the actual calls that we went to. I would have had very little success without the support of everybody I work with.”
Hawley knew from his first day working with Rocky that he would eventually adopt the dog from the Edmonds Police Department. “I have spent so much time working with him, there is no way I could part with him,” said Hawley, who has returned to regular patrol and admits that he now gets lonely without Rocky by his side while on duty.
“I still find myself turning around every time I get in the car, looking back there to pet him, but there is nothing back there,” he said. Rocky lives with Officer Hawley and his family and is content with being a backyard dog, but Hawley knows his dog would gladly join him on the force if he could. “He is my work partner; he just doesn’t come to work anymore.”
My Edmonds News intern Allison Pascoe is a Marysville native who graduated from the University of Washington in June with a degree in Communication and English. Allison’s free time is often spent with friends, playing tennis, soccer or waterskiing.