There’s a new sheriff’s dog in town, and he has a new uniform.
Tate, a Belgian malamute and German shepherd mix who will turn two in a few weeks, received a $900, custom-fitted protective vest on Saturday afternoon. He is now ready to serve alongside the 21 other dogs in the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office.
The new police dog graduated from the K-9 academy in May after eight weeks of training. In doing so, he followed in the footsteps of his father, a retired member of the unit.
Tate’s handler, Deputy Michael Puente, said Tate has already made two drug busts — and it looks like many more are in his future.
“He learned all his drugs in three weeks,” Puente said.
During training, Tate also learned to respond to at least 25 commands from Puente in Dutch.
Puente said he spent the entire training process at his dog’s side and spent time with him to bond beforehand. Now, Tate lives with Puente and his family full time, as do all the sheriff’s dogs and their handlers.
Puente presented Tate with his vest at the veterinary clinic near Riggs and Cooper roads in Chandler, where veterinarians Andrea Strickland and Scott McComb care for many service dogs.
The two vets, along with the nonprofit organization Protect Police K-9, donated the equipment to the sheriff’s newest crime fighter so he will be protected when assisting SWAT teams in emergency situations.
Each graduate from K-9 training becomes a sergeant in the force, which might go to Tate’s head.
“He technically outranks me,” Puente said.
Bill Higginbotham, the deputy in charge of K-9 training, stressed that the dogs save lives every year.
“They’re worth every penny that we spend on them,” he said.
But not all police dogs in Arizona can be outfitted with the protective vests.
Michael Valdez, president of Protect Police K-9, said the vests need to be replaced every five years due to deterioration of the material. His organization is working with state lawmakers to sponsor a bill next year that would authorize funding for the vests.
The measure would also boost penalties for those who injure or kill police dogs.