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K-9 cops: 45 years serving & protecting
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It was in the mid-‘60s that now Mayor Willie Weatherford and his dog Rommel, (second from left) was a member of the Manteca Police Department’s canine unit. Other officers from left are Dennis Hoerth and his dog Sock, Gerald Tigert and King and Ralph Jessee and Hobo. Hoerth and Jessee both retired as a captain and a lieutenant respectively. Tigert also retired as a lieutenant from the Fairfield Police Department. Weatherford had also served as a sheriff’s deputy before going on to work as both police chief and city manager for the City of Galt. He is currently the mayor of Manteca. - photo by Photo Contributed
In a nutshell Manteca police dogs are trained through their natural drives: hunt, scent, play and defense from the inception of the canine unit in the early 1960s until today.

It’s here that statewide police dog competitions began 39 years ago – and it’s here that another is slated to be held the last weekend in April.  The use of police dogs in Manteca and their camaraderie with officers is a tradition dating back to 1964.

Senior training officer and former Manteca police officer Gary Lee was quick to say police dogs are not trained to be mean, but rather to have fun in what they are doing.

“You have to know what the dog is thinking.  The level-three dog is thinking about making a mistake,” he said.  A police canine can be ready for street service with the public in three to four months, but to be perfect in every way,  it takes about a year and a half of continuous training, he added.

Lee is retired from the Manteca Police Department where he supervised the canine unit for some 20 years continuing in that role today on a contract basis.

The dog is like any other piece of equipment – you have to stay ahead of the dog, he said.  A fully trained police dog is valued between $7,000 and $10,000.  Police departments have gone to smaller animals that weigh an average of 55 pounds.  In past years the normal weight was about 75 pounds, but the lighter dogs don’t break down as quickly, Lee said.

Manteca police canine handlers train their dogs three hours each week plus one 10-hour mandatory training day each month.  Recently officers participated in training with their peers in a multi-agency training day including Stanislaus and San Joaquin counties as well as the Stockton Police Department.

Manteca officers have consistently been certified to be in the top 10 in proficiencies with the Western States Police Canine Association.

Canine officers are always available to put on presentations with the four-legged partners for groups such as the Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, Rotary, Kiwanis, Soroptimists, the Boys and Girls Club and schools in the area.

Officers and their canines in the Manteca department include Grant Flory and “Spike,” Randy Chiek and “Blade,” Dale Goforth and “Gage,” Will Mueller and “Bear, ” and Paul Garcia and “Cole.”

“Spike” was retired this week and Officer Grant Flory had his four-year-old, black giant Schnauzer  in the back of his patrol car in a training capacity.  Officer Bob Anderson is joining the unit from his patrol status next week with a female German Shepherd.

It was back in the 1967 era when now Mayor Willie Weatherford was serving as a canine patrol officer with his partner, “Romel.”  He and his dog were attempting to arrest a man at Wetmore and South main streets when the suspect bolted away from them ducking behind Chino’s Bar.  At the prospect of being taken down by “Romel,” he raised his hands and yelled, “OK OK, I give up!”

Serving in the police dog unit with Weatherford were officers Dennis Hoerth, Gerald Tigert and Ralph Jessee.

The department likes to use two dogs per shift in the present day – sometimes overlapping a couple times during a given week.

In years past a police dog was valued considerably less than it is today.  It was in 1966 when police chief David Walsh asked the council’s permission to purchase a fourth dog to be added to his canine unit.

In his letter to the city council, Walsh wrote:  “At present there is an excellent dog at the Van Duvan kennels, partly trained.  If this dog could be purchased,  he could be put into training immediately.”

Cost of the dog was $150 with a $10 allowance for the officer for the remainder of the year along with medical, food and care at another $75.  But that was nearly 50 years ago.

In February 1974, Canine “Quint” was killed in the line of duty.  It was a sad day for the department and for his officer partner.

It was about 9:30 in the evening,  and officers were searching for two suspects who had been witnessed attempting to burglarize a residence in the 300 block of Lovell Way located near the freeway.

“Quint” caught the scent of the suspects, and followed it along the fence line bordering Highway 99’s southbound lanes.  The two had apparently run across the freeway from that point.  When the police dog caught the direction they had taken, he bolted across the traffic lanes and was struck by an 18-wheeler that killed him instantly.