City hopes for “happy trails” in K-9 Han’s retirement years
South Bend— After an outstanding career in law enforcement with the South Bend Police Department (SBPD), K-9 “Hans” is one retiree that deserves not only a “golden” paw-shake, but a huge box of dog treats as reward for protecting and serving the community.
Alongside partner and K-9 handler Sgt. Steve Spadafora for nearly ten years, Hans, a 70 lb. German Shepherd, has kept the city’s streets safer by apprehending more than 100 criminals— a number of them high-profile and dangerous.
And some of those run-ins have been, well, “rough-rough”.
“I couldn’t have asked for a better partner than Hans…and I know he saved my life two times, at least. He’s been kicked, punched, shot at, paws ripped open on broken glass…and one man even bit him! The K-9s, just like the officers, take a lot of abuse,” said Spadafora, impressed with Hans’ loyalty.
He continued, “There’s some misconception about the K-9 unit...that it must be fun to work with a dog…well it is, but first and foremost it is a tactical unit and I believe the most dangerous job on the department.”
Spadafora noted he is also a SWAT team member, a regarded specialty unit trained to handle hazardous situations. Amongst other SBPD units, SWAT and the K-9 Unit engage in monthly training.
“Think about it. Let’s say there’s an armed robbery at the 7-11…and just you and your little dog are called into situations where the criminal is lying in wait for you…Hans is not just a pet, but a partner. An incredible bond develops with every situation you come out of…K-9 is not just a job, but a lifestyle,” explained Spadafora.
K-9 Unit Supervisor Sgt. Jeff Rynearson agreed, and said that he, like the other nine K-9 teams share countless gratifying moments. He can’t help but be proud of all the past and present K-9 Unit members that have put their lives on the line.
And out of hundreds of incidents, he said Hans and his partner have certainly been standouts. Rynearson noted not only were Spadafora and Hans “Officers of the Month” in June and July of 2001, but also SBPD Co-Officers of the Year 2001, for their performance in a succession of apprehensions. In 2002, the Veterans of Foreign Wars invited them to Arlington, VA to receive the national J. Edgar Hoover Gold Medal Award for outstanding service in the field of law enforcement.
In one instance Hans apprehended a South Bend man who was eluding police while holding out his six-month baby as a decoy; also intending to strangle it. Spadafora remembered being horrified at the man’s actions, but in the end officers were able to restrain the man and rescue the baby.
Another favorite Hans story from both officers was in the summer of 2000 when three armed suspects attempted to rob, and shot the store owner of the Oriental Market on Lincolnway West.
Spadafora recalled, “In the confusion, one of the robbers shot another one of the robbers and their getaway car had taken off so they fled on foot. Hans was deployed and amazingly, in less than ten minutes, apprehended all three of them and we recovered two guns. The robbers were hiding in different places, and he found one on a porch, one hidden alongside a house and one behind the bushes. He used his nose… and since our K-9s are trained in the most effective ‘find, bite and hold’ method, I do believe two of them sustained bites.”
“They received the July ‘Officers of the Month’ for stopping a vehicle occupied by a suspect wanted on numerous felony warrants. When the car stopped, the suspect fled on foot. Hans was sent to apprehend him and during the foot chase, the suspect fired three times at Hans (point blank range). All three shots missed him and before the fourth shot could be fired, Hans took the suspect to the ground and he was taken into custody by assisting officers,” remembered Rynearson.
Remarkably, and even after suffering a ligament injury during a training session in 2001, Hans recuperated and has only recently slowed down enough for his mandatory retirement in 2005. After all, he is more than 70 years of age in dog years (10.5 human years) and some arthritis has settled in a reconstructed paw.
You’d think some rest and relaxation would be in order, but Spadafora said if Hans had his way, he’d work forever. He still perks up when Spadafora puts on his uniform and sets out with Fritz, another German Shepherd and his new partner in the K-9 Unit.
But then again, Spadafora says Hans will still “be on duty” safeguarding his home, where he gets to spend his final years after an ownership transfer from the City of South Bend is finalized at this month’s Board of Works meeting. And while Hans misses being a part of the police action, the city’s giving them a golden opportunity neither partner wants to miss.