Sgt. Rock leaped out of his police car with a goofy look on his face Friday and put his big, black mase to work.
No drug busts this day. No chasing after bad guys, either. Instead, Sgt. Rock used his sensitive nostrils to say hello to a small group of fawning visitors and his best friend, Vero Beach police Sgt. Keith Touch berry.
After a few welcoming sniffs, he sat, ears perked, and gave Touchberry a big doggy kiss.
Rocky, known affectionately as Sgt. Rock by the badge he wears on his collar, is a Dutch malinois between 10 and 12 years old. He is all business when he needs to be. But the old boy, stiff from years of arthritis and fusing bones, is ready to retire.
“He’s just getting old,” Police Chief Jim Gabbard said. “You don’t want to wait until the dog totally breaks down; it’s not fair to the dog.”
Gabbard is asking the City Council for two police dogs to replace Rocky and the department’s other dog, Gess, age 9, in the fiscal 1998 budget. Both dogs are old and suffering from joint problems that limit their ability to bound after fleeing crooks, rescue lost children and altogether save the day.
Replacing the dogs is expected to cost $8,000, a fraction of the $198,949 Gabbard is requesting for capital improvements in the coming year.
“Costs are immediately recovered the first time a dog finds an Alzheimer’s patient, finds a lost child or apprehends a bad guy,” said Touchberry, Rocky’s handler since the dog was imported from Holland in 1991.
Once retired Rocky and Gess, who works with Officer Alan Hall, will live lives on leisure as their handlers’ family pets.
Mallnoises have a work span of up to 10 years, Touchberry said. The dogs’ flexible disposition allows them to aggressively track down criminals, then spend an afternoon gently tolerating the loud clinging antics of second-graders.
“If we absolutely had to keep working (them), we could push it,” Touchberry said. But their duties steadily would become more limited.
Gabbard also is asking the City Council to approve money for fitness equipment, seven new police cars at a cost of $156,000 and radios. All requests are preliminary and must be approved by City Manager Rex Taylor before going to City Council in July.
Two new traffic officers and a janitor are also needed, Gabbard said.
“We have not had a new position for eight years,” he said. “We’ve had a busy traffic year.”
Heavier traffic along State Road 60 has generated more accidents and increased response time, Gabbard said.
His total budget request, including personnel and operating costs, is $5.1 million. That amount is down from the fiscal 1997 budget of $5.3 million, which included money for a half-million dollar computer system.