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Dickinson police dog Buster ready to retire

Buster the police dog, a chocolate lab, poses in front of the patrol vehicle he shared with K9 Officer Corey Lee behind the Law Enforcement Center in Dickinson on Thursday afternoon. Buster, who has been in semi-retirement for a few weeks, will go into full retirement when Gambit, a Belgian Malinois, is fully certified next week. Buster may still assist the force when needed, but will become a pet full-time.1 / 2
Gambit2 / 2

After a few weeks of semi-retirement, police dog Buster, a chocolate lab, will officially retire to the life of a pet.

Buster, who is 8 years old, loves coming to work but has hip problems, said K-9 Officer Corey Lee, his handler. Halfway through a 12-hour shift, Buster will get stiff and his regular enthusiasm for his job drops off.

"He's a very wound-up dog. He loved coming to work," Lee said. "It's hard for him to stay at home. You can tell it's very hard for him seeing me leave with a different dog."

Generally, Labradors can work until they're 10 or 11. But Buster's health problems are keeping him from continuing his work, Lee said.

Buster is still coming into work when needed for a search, but no longer goes on patrol. He is still certified and may help out during his retirement, Lee said.

"We're going to miss Buster," Capt. Joe Cianni said. "He's basically served the community and the department for a lot of years. He's assisted a number of quality arrests regarding the apprehension of those with drugs."

Buster's replacement on the force is Gambit, a 2-year-old Belgian Malinois, who will be trained to sniff out illegal substances and used as an apprehension dog.

"Dogs that do apprehension work are generally better at tracking, as well," Lee said. "He will not only detain dangerous individuals but he will protect the handler as well."

Gambit will be with Lee at all times.

"It's very important for the handler and the dog to have a strong bond," Lee said, "especially with a dual-purpose dog."

Lee has had dogs his entire life, growing up training hunting dogs. He worked with Buster for more than six years.

Police dogs, as with other working dogs, are well trained, but have a job to do.

"In the past, we didn't mind people just coming up and petting the dogs. We can't really do that anymore," Lee said.

If you see Lee out with Gambit, get clear permission to pet the dog.

"Gambit's trained in everything that Buster was as far as the narcotics go, same odors, he just brings a little more -- another tool to the table," Lee said.

Gambit will be fully certified next week, Cianni said.

The Malinois are built similar to a German Shepherd, a popular police dog, but are higher energy and a bit smaller. The breed was popular for military and police work in Europe before coming to the United States more than a decade ago, said Russ Hess, executive director of the Virginia-based U.S. Police Canine Association.

"They are a very good dog," Hess said. "They're vastly outnumbering German Shepherds in some aspects."

Some Malinois have been in the military and are now serving on local police departments, Hess said.

Gambit came from a breeder in Holland, Lee said. Local businesses have donated funds to purchase and train Gambit.

"They're probably one of the cheapest employees that the department can have, other than the maintenance and the initial cost of the program," Hess said. "They have a very small paycheck and that's usually just for food and water and the love of their masters. They don't usually take sick days and the vacation days are what the handler gets."

Katherine Grandstrand
I graduated from Bemidji State University in 2007 with a bachelor's degree in mass communcations, from Columbia College Chicago in 2009 with a master's degree in journalism.  
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