By Kayli Reese
The K9 unit in the University of Iowa police is well-respected by community members, it seems.
“People absolutely love to see [the dogs],” said Alton Poole, the UI police community outreach officer.
Perhaps no two people love the dogs more than their handlers, Officers Jess Bernhard and Jaclyn Anderson. The department has two explosive-detection dogs; Bernhard works with Jago, and Anderson works with Falo.
Bernhard said he used to work at the UI department as a lieutenant but demoted himself back to officer so he could work with a K9. Both Bernhard and Anderson went to Peru, Indiana, to pick out the dog they would most like to work with. Falo was the first dog Anderson saw, she said.
“I joke that he picked me,” she said.
Bernhard and Jago work during the day, and Anderson and Falo work the night shift, which, she said, can be difficult, because dogs can’t adjust sleep schedules as humans can.
Both dogs are highly trained, Bernhard said; Jago can detect more than 20 explosive odors. The dogs, he said, track people, guns, evidence, and aid in bomb threats in the area.
With this work comes with a great sense of pride, as the dogs discover items that help a case stick in court, Bernhard said. He and Jago, he said, have even done sweeps for the Secret Service. Working with Jago on these tasks, he said, remind him on why he took the oath to serve in the first place.
The dogs train for one to three hours per day, Bernhard said. Some of that training includes Bernhard working on his voice when speaking to Jago. He said his tone while giving commands, which are in German or Dutch, indicates to Jago when to work and when to play.
In addition to being extremely active, Bernhard said, Jago is also very attached to him, which has created a deep but stressful bond. For example, Bernhard said Jago broke his tooth a year ago while Bernhard was on vacation because Jago missed him so much. Jago had to have his tooth capped, which concerned Bernhard as Jago went through the procedure.
“He’s not just my partner, he’s my friend,” Bernhard said.
Both Jago and Falo have balls they love to chew on during their off-time. Anderson said the ball is the switch for Falo to know when it’s OK to be off work. Bernhard noted that Jago may love to be social and play, but he knows when the toys are away, it’s time to get back to business.
“It’s like he goes from mild-mannered Clark Kent to Superman in one phone booth,” he said.
Bernhard and Anderson both have police cars different from the other vehicles, with a special AC unit, spill-proof water container, and a built-in kennel for the dogs to ride in. They both said they constantly check on the dogs in the car when they are away from the vehicle on a call.
Both dogs also wear bullet- and stab-proof vests, which, the officers said, cost $3,700 each. Anderson said money was raised for Falo’s vest, but Bernhard said Jago’s vest was donated by a UI staff member who felt the K9s needed to be as safe as the officers are.
On the job, Bernhard said, there are not always a lot of happy times. However, he said, having Jago helps ease the work. Anderson agreed, having a K9 makes her job better.
“I’ve been an officer for 16 years and have had the dog for two,” she said. “It has been the best years of my career by far.”