After seven years working for the Columbia County Sheriff's Office, Spike hung up his badge in November, and his handler says he is getting used to retirement.
Deputy Thomas Langford's partner, Spike, has been retired from the Columbia County Sheriff's Office's Canine Unit. Health problems brought an end to the 9-year-old dog's career in law enforcement.
Photo by Jim Blaylock
Spike, a 9-year-old German shepherd used his keen nose to sniff out drugs or track fleeing suspects or lost children.
"He was one of our good trackers. He was real good at that," said Deputy Thomas Langford, Spike's handler of three years.
Langford said Spike did not retire voluntarily, because he loved the work, which included helping the sheriff's office's Vice and Narcotics Unit and other law enforcement agencies such as the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.
"He loves it," Langford said. "Basically, the way they are trained, it's like a game to them. They are trained that stimulus equals response equals reward.''
A tennis ball, which Spike was given as a reward, is still a big part of his life, though not in the same way.
"Now we go out and play ball in the yard and stuff like that," Langford said. "But I don't get out and make him track. But he enjoys it. It is not like work to him. It was never like work to him.''
Spike was retired from the sheriff's office for medical reasons. Langford said Spike tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in 2001. After nearly three months, he headed back to work with a knee of metal rods and springs. It was in November that Spike got a condition known as "bloat," which is when the stomach becomes detatched. The condition can easily kill a dog.
The only treatment was to surgically right Spike's stomach and sew or staple it to the rib cage to prevent the stomach from flipping again.
"After that, they decided to retire him, because with the work that these dogs do, there are possibilities it could tear away if it wasn't done well enough," Langford said.
Langford said that some of the four remaining dogs in the sheriff's office's Canine Unit are older than Spike and that he probably would have worked until he was about 13 years old had it not been for his injuries.
These days, Spike spends his time lazing around the back yard of Langford's Appling home trying to get used to the slower and more playful pace of retirement.
"People up at the vet's office are like, 'He's just like a puppy.' He acts like one, but his body just won't let him do what he used to be able to do," Langford said.
Dianne Collins, of the Grovetown Animal Clinic, where Spike is treated, said she was initially intimidated by Spike because he is such a big, strong and serious dog.
After bathing, walking and feeding him for a few days, though, she realized he was playful and eager to please and loved to play fetch.
"He's so playful. He just jumps around," Collins said. "He's just a wonderful dog.''
As thanks for Spike's years of service to the county, Collins, who is a hand spinner and fiber artist, recently used Spike's hair to weave him a keepsake leash.
Though Spike spent four years with different handlers on the Canine Unit, Langford said he vividly remembers the first track he and Spike went on, in 2001.
"We tracked the lady who shot our officer," Langford said, referring to Tamika Bumpass, who escaped from transportation officer Glenda Shelton and who authorities say shot her during an escape attempt near Harlem. "That was my very first track. I was straight out of school ... We were actually the first initial canine on that. (Spike) had actually tracked within 50 yards of her initially on the first track. But my inexperience and being straight out of school, I just wasn't reading my dog right."
In his years with the sheriff's office, Spike tracked a fleeing suspect lying motionless in a ditch, helped search for missing children and has even located drugs.
Langford said Spike is the kind of dog you would want beside you in any emergency.
"He's one of the baddest dogs we've had when it comes to bites. You are just not going to get him off. When he holds on, he holds on," Langford said.
Langford said Spike has mellowed since retirement and Langford has stopped training on bite, odor and tracking.
Spike plays well with Langford's 2- and 5-year-old sons and his female Labrador retriever.
"He's a pretty good dog. He's adjusting well,'' Langford said. When a dog is retired, the current handler has first dibs on keeping the dog, he explained. "It's not so serious every time he's out. He's used to kind of relaxing and moseying around."
Langford said that because he got to keep Spike, whose injuries occurred around the time Langford was hoping to leave the Canine Unit, the only people his retirement has hurt were the residents of Columbia County and the members of the sheriff's office, who were down one dog.
Even in retirement, Spike's drive to work and the intensive training he received in Europe as an International Police Organization Title III dog, is never far from the surface, Langford said.
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