Statistics show that police dogs experience their peak performance between 5 and 10 years old. Cairo, the Kalispell Police K-9, has recently finished a strong first year. But his handler, Officer Jason Parce, is keeping his eyes not on what Cairo is now, but on what he has the potential become.
Parce and Cairo were paired in February 2017. The duo began patrolling and working cases after six weeks of training. Cairo had 73 deployments in his first year. These are situations where Parce and Cairo were called in so Cairo could sniff for narcotics. Sixty-five of these deployments resulted in criminal charges for possession of dangerous drugs. About 95 percent of these drug seizures were for heroin and methamphetamine.
Through the year Cairo was called in to help officers from six different law enforcement agencies. Because of Cairo, 56 search warrants for vehicles were obtained.
Cairo completed 250 hours of training and received two narcotics certifications in his first year.
He is also a part of the Kalispell Police Department commitment to drug prevention, and Cairo and Parce made 52 community or school presentations in their first year.
The numbers are impressive, but they are only part of the story. When it comes to Parce and Cairo, what you really have is a story of a man and his best friend serving together.
“He bonded with me so quickly,” said Parce. “It was immediately clear to everyone that Cairo was a one-person dog.” When Parce and Cairo were initially paired up, the trainer offered a piece of advice that Parce has held on to. “He told me to ‘just watch your dog. He’ll tell you everything you need to know.’” Cairo and Parce are constantly watching each other, trying to read each other and the situations they encounter.
With Cairo, the watchfulness is a bit of an obsession. Being able to keep an eye on Parce helps keep Cairo calm. On their days at home, Cairo will curl up on his mat, perfectly content with a bone to gnaw and Parce within view. “He’s naturally protective. I didn’t train him to be that way,” said Parce. “In Cairo’s mind the situation we face is constantly changing, but inside it just comes down to the fact that I’m his human and it is his job to protect me.”
“Cairo is the best partner I’ll ever have,” said Parce.
Cairo is a Belgian malinois mixed with a bit of Dutch shepherd. “These dogs are sometimes called ‘crazy mals,’ or ‘maligators’ or ‘land sharks,’” laughs Parce. “But Cairo’s intensity and drive are what make him ideal for police work.”
Training is a constant with Cairo. Obedience training is an everyday activity. Time is made during their shift for drug sniffing training. And Parce has noticed that with Cairo’s specific skills he is naturally inclined to be good at tracking, which is a skill they may decide to add to his official training regimen. But the biggest thing they work on, always, is trust. “There is a difference between the way he trusts me now compared to six months ago,” said Parce. “And we just keep improving.
“When he’s in go-mode, it is like nothing else I’ve ever experienced,” said Parce. “And what I can’t wait for is when he and I are in our prime as a team. Right now we are far from that. He doesn’t absolutely trust me yet, and I don’t 100 percent trust him. But we are moving toward that more and more each day.”
Parce looks at Cairo and smiles, “I can’t imagine what it will be like three years from now.”
Even when Cairo is off the clock, he’s not just a normal pet. Parce insists that Cairo knows when their weekend comes around because he’s more relaxed. But even then, Cairo still has his intensity and has to be the center of attention.
For all of his intensity, Cairo also has a playful side. This is another benefit to Parce.
“When we go into the schools to talk to kids about drugs, Cairo gets the love and attention of the students. He helps me better connect with the kids,” said Parce.
“The same is true out in the community. I have had people approach me with Cairo in a way that never happened before. Suddenly we have something in common. They’ll see him and know I must love dogs, and they love dogs, and that becomes our common ground. It lets us start the conversation.”
Working as the K-9 handler is a full-time special duty within the Kalispell Police Department. In order to be selected for this position, Parce had to promise that he would stay with the program for at least four years, but he’s hoping the program will extend beyond this initial trail.
“This is it for me,” said Parce. “This is what I have wanted to do for my whole life. Even when he annoys me, even when things are far from perfect, he’s a great dog and a great friend,” said Parce. “Right now, every day, I’m living my dream.”