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A big part of K-9 Copper’s duties are public relations and interacting with the community. Here he attends the Mardi Gras in Cocoa Village, Fla., where he passes along a message of being responsible while partying.

Copper, a Black and Tan Coonhound, is one of five, loyal companion dogs who won the 19th annual AKC Humane Fund Awards for Canine Excellence (ACE). The winners will be honored at the AKC National Championship presented by Royal Canin in Orlando, Florida, December 15-16, 2018

What are the odds? A police officer who has never owned a dog and a Black and Tan Coonhound as his partner changing the mindset of a community toward law enforcement.

“Chris and Copper” is one of those upbeat fairy-tale stories you yearn for in these troubled times.

Officer Chris Hattaway and his 2-year-old teammate have a positive public presence like no others in Cocoa, Florida, and as a result are winners of the 2018 AKC Humane Funds Awards for Canine Excellence (ACE) Uniformed Service K-9 honor to be presented at the 2018 AKC National Championship presented by Royal Canin in Orlando, Florida, December 15 & 16.

While Copper’s chief accomplishments have been in the public-relations corridor, he’s also a registered therapy dog and is being trained to track missing persons.

But putting this team together was a real long shot.

As a professional working couple with three daughters, a dog was not on the radar for Hattaway and his wife, Krystel, recognizing it would be left at home alone during the day.

But things changed a couple of years ago.

An opportunity presented itself to have a working police dog partner who would accompany him 24/7.

“My wife was not sure about a stinky hound living with us. So I started with ‘well it could be just temporary,’ ” laughs Hattaway. “Copper had to be accepted by the City of Cocoa, and then the handler must be selected.”

(FYI: Copper, 14 months old, was a donation to the Cocoa Police Dept. through City Councilwoman Brenda Warner, via North Carolina breeder Cynthia Owens.)

After Copper was brought to Florida, the plan was to have him stay with the lead K-9 officer to undergo obedience training. A week after the handler took Copper, his female dog went into heat; consequently, new surroundings needed to be found for Copper quickly. That’s when Hattaway stepped in.

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Police Officer Chris Hattaway and Copper take a break following a SWAT (Special Weapons and Tactics) training demonstration at the 2017 AKC National Championship presented by Royal Canin in Orlando, Fla. All of the city’s K-9 teams are members of the SWAT team.

Copper came to the Hattaway’s with the name Charlie, but Hattaway changed it to Copper, “because,” he explains, “he was this adorable hound dog that looked like the voice from the hound dog in the 1981 Disney movie, ‘The Fox and the Hound.’

“From the first day I brought Copper home, he started growing with us. Early on, I would tell my daughters and my wife that Copper might get a new home, so don’t love him yet. Soon after, Copper was assigned to me in the Community Resource Unit and has worked alongside me ever since.”

Copper was a hit — and a conduit — from the get-go, both inside and outside the department.

“His first day on the job, he greeted the officers on shift,” Hattaway recalls. “They stood around him and smiled and started to let their soft sides come out. Cops aren’t usually too impressed by anything. I use them as a gauge of how Copper could measure up in public. I got to see how he would do around them, but what about those in the hardest areas we have to police?

It didn’t take long for Copper to make a solid impression on Hattaway. The day after he took possession of the dog, the officer was wrapping up a holiday toy outreach project. The two began walking on the sidewalk in front of stores when a woman pulled over and stopped. As she got out of her car and started to come over to Copper with tears in her eyes, she asked if she could pet Copper. “I immediately obliged,” Hattaway recalls. “Copper walked over to her and laid on his back to receive a belly rub. The woman cried and said she had PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) since she was a child. ‘A dog bit me and took off my finger,’ she said. ‘Since that time I have never seen a dog that I wanted to pet or be around. This dog is beautiful and is helping me be OK with dogs.’ “

Hattaway recalls another poignant moment that began to answer his concern about how Copper would interact with the public in challenging areas. He took the dog to a local park right around the corner from the police department. Immediately the people began staring and watching the two walk through. Finally, a small child came running over to see this four-legged character with amazing long ears. Others followed and quickly the pair was surrounded by children who pulled their parents along with them.

“Once we created an atmosphere of communication, people wanted to give us tips that would help with cases. It led to us traveling around Brevard County to help other agencies grow their community policing units,” Hattaway says.

One of the duo’s biggest boosters is Cocoa Police Chief Michael Cantaloupe. “He’s a big believer in community policing and the need for developing a positive relationship between the citizens and police department,” emphasizes Hattaway. “This is a first for policing in this area, where a K-9 team wouldn’t have the main focus of responding to calls or doing scent-detection work.

The pair doesn’t operate on a set schedule, working as many hours as needed to cover its far-reaching role in Cocoa, a community of approximately 17.000. Their busy holiday schedule includes stops at a fall festival, food-drive truck, chili cook-off, toy-drive kickoff, Space Coast Marathon, golf tournament, Santa Train, Walmart Shop with a Cop, and, of course, the ACE Awards ceremony in Orlando.

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Copper is in his element with visitors In the Black and Tan Coonhound booth during Meet the Breeds at the 2017 Orlando show.

Copper adores children and has three at home — Addison, 11; Meredith, 7; and Violet, 3. Since Copper and Dad are the only males in the household, they’re treated likes “kings of the castle.” King Copper’s chief partner in castle crime is Violet, who calls him “Buddy.”

When the pair isn’t schmoozing in public, Copper trains weekly in track and trailing. He’s a certified Canine Good Citizen and a registered therapy dog, as well.

Copper is an ambassador for a breed not high on the general public’s recognition chart. In fact, it ranks 128th out of 192 breeds on the 2017 AKC breed popularity list. And it’s unknown if there’s another Black and Tan Coonhound on duty with any U.S. police department.

When asked his chief take-away from Copper’s presence in the community, Hattaway responds, “He creates an opportunity for positive reinforcement that was never there. In the process, it changes the balance of the justice system and establishes a comfort zone for child victims and those who have been traumatized, including victims of domestic violence and the elderly.”

He describes one of his most riveting memories:

“We were sitting in a second-grade classroom to talk about being safe. We sat down on the floor with the children to be at their eye level and started talking about gun safety. The three points were if you see or find a gun, don’t touch, leave the area and tell someone that’s safe — teacher, adult, police, firefighter — about it. I took out my handcuffs and started to pass them around and tell them we want them to make good choices. While the students were passing the cuffs, one girl said, ‘My Dad went to jail for beating my mom last weekend.’ Another boy chimed in, ‘My Dad went to jail for hitting my Mom, too.’ Then a little boy who was sitting in front of me raised his hand and said, ‘What do I do when my Dad beats my Mom when we’re riding in the car? How do I get away? ‘

“I was taken back by this. Well, you close your eyes, cover your ears, and you think about Copper. You think about rubbing his long black velvet ears, and you think about being here with him. The little boy looks at Copper and rubs him a little and says, ‘OK, I can do that!’ “

And just in case you need your Copper fix, his presence stretches far beyond Cocoa, Florida. He has his own social-media pages through Facebook and Instagram, sporting nearly 2,000 followers.

Learn more about our other ACE winners:

Therapy Dog Works Magic in the Most Challenging Environments

This Golden Retriever is an Award Winning Service Dog

Standard Poodle is the Best Companion Dog for a Boy With Autism

Inspector Gadget is a Winning Search & Rescue Dog

The AKC National Championship presented by Royal Canin will take place Saturday to Sunday, December 15 to 16, 2018, in Orlando, Florida. Tune in to AKC.TV, or download the AKC.TV app on RokuApple TV, orAmazonFireTV to catch the live stream starting on Saturday, December 15 at 12 p.m. ET. Watch the TV premiere on New Year’s Day on Animal Planet at 6 p.m. ET. Encore performance airs at 12 a.m. ET.

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