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Atwater police chief has new K-9 partner

ATWATER -- About five months after his longtime, trusted, laid-back, know-how-to-get-the-job-done K-9 partner, Max, died, Atwater Police Chief Reed Schmidt is getting used to the one-year-old energy of a happy dog that is just so darn excited to go to work he could just spin in circles and lick your face clean.

"He gets so excited about doing this," said Schmidt of his new partner, a yellow Labrador retriever named Dakota, who now sits in the back seat of Schmidt's squad car as another member of the small town's police force. "He's got a lot of youth on him."

Schmidt has high praise for his new trainee. "He's ready. He knows what he's doing."

He can quickly find planted bags of methamphetamine, cocaine, marijuana and heroine during daily training sessions. That will be his main job.

His friendly nature makes him a natural for another area on his job description -- public relations and education, especially with schoolchildren when Schmidt conducts special programs at the elementary school.

The two have "bonded" and Dakota gets along well with Schmidt's wife, Patti, and their other two family dogs.

But Dakota will never be able to fill the empty spot left by Max.

The 10-year-old German shepherd died in March from a stroke that was linked to a 2006 incident when Schmidt and Max were both injured during an attack while on duty in Atwater. The attacker repeatedly rammed the squad car and then viciously pummeled Schmidt, who lost sight in one eye. Max was knocked unconscious in the attack.

When Max is discussed, there's a sigh and an unmistaken sadness.

"We had a strong bond because we were together for so long," Schmidt said. The two worked and lived together for nine years.

The personalities of Max and Dakota are very different, and Schmidt has only had a couple of weeks to get to know Dakota.

"He's not going to be Max, but he'll be a working partner for me," Schmidt said.

This is a second chance relationship for both Schmidt and Dakota.

Dakota is a rescued dog.

As Schmidt tells it, the pup was the victim of a nasty divorce in another part of the state. The woman got the house and dog but didn't want the dog, left him tied to the bumper of her ex-husband's vehicle while he was at work and abandoned him. The man lived in an apartment and couldn't care for the dog.

A pet rescue organization had heard about Max's death and called Schmidt to offer Dakota to him. After an hour of playtime, and seeing Dakota's aggressive nature to fetch and find a ball, Schmidt knew the dog would be a good police partner and took him home.

Schmidt began training Dakota to search for drugs and then sent him to trainer in Iowa for additional lessons. He returned to Atwater on Aug. 1.

Although the city did receive insurance money when Max died, Schmidt paid for all of Dakota's training and other expenses out of his own pocket. That way when Schmidt retires -- and he gave no indication when that would be -- Dakota will remain in the Schmidt home. "He's my dog," Schmidt said.

At Schmidt's urging, the city used the insurance money to buy and train another police dog, named Callie, for their second officer, Ross Johnson. Callie will finish her training and return to Atwater on Sept. 9.

Johnson is pretty excited about having his own K-9 partner, who is a Belgian malinois.

Schmidt said having a dog for each officer will mean there will be a K-9 unit available to work day and night. "It'll be a real benefit for the community," he said.

Carolyn Lange

A reporter for 35 years, Carolyn Lange covers regional news with the West Central Tribune.

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