This is the fifth of a series of features on 2017's AKC Humane Fund Awards for Canine Excellence Winners who will be honored Dec. 16-17 at the AKC National Championship presented by Royal Canin in Orlando.
You might call Duke an impact dog. He affects the lives of many people around him, particularly his owner, Detective Sgt. Ed Soares, of Menlo Park, Calif.
Looking for a companion, Soares purchased Duke, a Doberman Pinscher, from a San Jose, Calif., breeder as an 8-week-old puppy. “I researched the breed and found it to be exactly what I was looking for – strong, intelligent, loyal, and driven,” he says.
But how “K-9 Duke” found his way onto the Menlo Park Police Special Investigations Unit’s crack team has a laughable backstory, accented with a trail of hard work and dedication by both Soares and the 90-pound, black-and-rust dog.
The end result has produced plenty of arrests and the recovery of substantial amounts of drugs and cash.
He has also earned recognition from the American Kennel Club (AKC) as the 2017 AKC Humane Fund Awards for Canine Excellence winner for Uniformed Service K-9. Soares and Duke will receive the award at the AKC National Championship presented by Royal Canin in Orlando, Fla., Dec. 16-17.
Duke, Soares’ girlfriend, Jocelyn Ramos, of the Los Angeles Police Dept, and Soares successfully completed the Murph Challenge, the annual fund-raiser of the Lt. Michael P. Murphy Memorial Scholarship Foundation on Memorial Day weekend nationwide. Murphy was a Navy SEAL who gave his life during Operation Red Wing. The timed event includes a one-mile run, 100 pull-ups, 200 push-ups, 300 air squats and another one-mile run all while wearing a loaded 20-pound tactical vest. Duke and Soares ran with the American flag.
Soares laughs when recalling then young Duke’s introduction to department personnel. “While at my department on a day off for a staff meeting, I brought him in with me and introduced him to the chief of police, Robert Jonsen. Chief Jonsen is a big animal lover and immediately took to Duke.
“While I was occupied in the meeting, Chief Jonsen offered to babysit Duke in his office. Upon my return, I was shocked to see the floor covered in shredded up cardboard and Duke asleep under the desk at the chief’s feet. The chief turned to me with a gigantic smile on his face and said, 'We had fun, although he peed on my carpet.’ I later learned that the chief had let Duke play with a cardboard box and allowed him to disintegrate it.
“As I was attempting to apologize to the chief, I was interrupted and told that Duke is welcome back any time. This is where I made a spontaneous joke of how funny it would be if Duke became our next K-9. To my amazement, the chief cocked his head over slightly and said, ‘I wouldn’t be opposed to that idea.’”
So, with that seed planted in Soares’ head, he began a journey of shaping Duke through socialization, obedience, and training.
At 12 weeks old, Duke was enrolled with The Bay Area K9 Association in Santa Clara, which provided the foundation for his obedience, tracking, and detection skills. “Duke took to the training like a duck to water,” Soares recalls. “His intelligence and drive were impressive to watch, and his eagerness to please was second to none.”
What an eye-opening experience. This was the day Soares found out his 90-pound partner was afraid of spiders.
On Soares’ days off, he and Duke went to different locations to familiarize the young dog with sounds, people, and other animals. The aim here was to establish a comfort zone with multiple distractions and a wide mix of people.
Soares drafted a proposal in November 2015 and presented it to the Menlo Park police commander and Chief Jonsen to make Duke a certified narcotic detection K-9. In May 2016, that became a reality.
More intense narcotic schooling followed at Trident K-9 Consulting in San Francisco one month later, resulting in Duke’s certification through the California Police Officer Standards and Training (POST) for the detection of cocaine, methamphetamine, heroin, and marijuana. Duke and Soares continue to conduct weekly update training at Trident.
In July 2016, the team enrolled in the California Narcotics Canine Association, where his detection skills were tested and evaluated during a daylong certification, and Duke was certified for the same four substances.
Duke’s incorporation into Soares’ Special Investigations Unit, which includes three detectives, was seamless.
This K-9 Doberman is one versatile character. Here he is Traffic Officer Duke about to ask for a subject’s driver’s license, registration and “woof” of insurance, please.
“Our main function and directive,” Soares explains, “is to focus on eradicating our area of dangerous drugs and violent criminals. We also are deployed for any major incident that occurs within our jurisdiction or any pressing issue the city is dealing with that needs special attention, such as residential burglaries, theft, human trafficking, shootings, or gang-related issues.”
Duke is the only narcotic detection K-9 deployed in the department, which includes an apprehension K-9 named Hardy, a 2-½-year-old German Shepherd Dog.
“Duke’s ability to be able to sniff out the smallest amount of narcotics still astounds me,” adds Soares. “This being said, sniffing out a large seizure of narcotics always makes my day. One time after the execution of a narcotic search warrant, Duke was utilized to search the residence and alerted on a suitcase deep within a bedroom closet. When the suitcase was removed and opened to reveal the contents, we located over six pounds of crystal meth. As a cop, it thrills me to be able to remove this much product off the streets.
“During the execution of another search warrant, Duke was alerted on a cabinet in a bedroom that contained several boxes which appeared to belong to a child. Once the boxes were opened, we located $100,000 in U.S. currency. Duke will alert on currency if that money had been close to or touched by narcotics. The money was seized from the suspect as proceeds from narcotic trafficking.”
But K-9 Duke hasn’t simply impacted the world of the bad guys. He is an ambassador for his breed and the entire Menlo Park Police Department when it comes to visiting schools, community events, and hospitals.
Recently Duke and Soares visited the Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital at Stanford, where they went into the play area where patients of all ages were brought throughout the day. The children at the hospital have a wide variety of illnesses and conditions.
“They loved playing with Duke, petting and hugging him. While I was there one of the staff members asked if I would be able to make it to some of the rooms where the children could not leave their beds due to their conditions. As Duke and I entered a room, I observed a girl around 12 years old in bed. We walked up to the side of her bed and introduced ourselves. She looked at Duke and began to smile and reach out to him.
Duke relaxes at home wondering when it’s time go back to work.
“I had never brought him to a hospital or trained him in any way for this scenario, so what happened next completely blew my mind. Duke walked up slowly to her bedside and rested his head softly on her lap. The young girl began stroking his head and rubbing his ears as his eyes focused on her. I looked up and observed several employees had stopped to witness, as well. Duke stayed with her for about 15 minutes, never moving his head from her lap other than to snuggle in a little closer to her.
“I have never witnessed something as pure. An animal sensing a human’s need for love and compassion at that exact moment in time and providing it without hesitation. As we left, she said quietly, ‘thank you' and 'I love you, Duke.’ I teared up and said a silent prayer for Duke’s new friend.”
When asked what are the questions he most often receives, Soares responds, “Does he sleep on your bed? And, what do you feed him?” And just in case you’re wondering, Duke has slept on his owner’s bed since day 1, and he is fed a raw food diet with an accent of Alaskan salmon oil.
While Duke’s impact is huge within the police department and the community, it is even stronger with his owner/partner. “He is the epitome of a Velcro dog. He is known to whine and cry if I leave him in the office or in my K-9 car, as if to say, ‘Where you going? Take me! Take me!’ Duke accompanies me basically 24/7 at work and on my day off.
Duke and Detective Sgt. Ed Soares of the Menlo Park (Calif.) Police Special Investigations Unit conduct a K-9 demonstration and drug-awareness class at a local school. During the session, Duke was caught flirting with a student.
“I’ve always been the kind of cop that hasn’t really been keen on community events or public speaking and was more focused on my job of putting bad people in jail. This completely changed when Duke came into my life. Being that Duke’s story about how he became a police K-9 is very unique, people genuinely are inquisitive and have many questions. Add to that Dobermans are very rare these days in law enforcement.
“Duke has brought me out of my shell, made me more approachable and talkative. I now take him weekly to local schools for meet-and-greet to tell his story and do some drug-awareness classes, too. It’s a win-win for everyone. Duke is a very kind and gentle soul and is at his best around young children and those with special needs. He has a knack for sensing their vulnerability, pain, or need for unconditional love.”
All of the 2017 ACE Award winners will be honored at the 2017 AKC National Championship in Orlando, Fla. Learn more about the 2017 winners here.