In March, the Clatsop County Sheriff’s office welcomes its newest recruit.
Tux, a 5-year-old Belgian Malinois, met his new handler, Senior Deputy Thomas Phillips, just a few days ago. In the next few weeks, Tux will go to patrol school to train up on how to sniff out drugs and find suspects.
But until then, Tux’s first order of business will be to play around and eat. Food, unsurprisingly, is a crucial tool to build trust between a canine and his handler.
“I’m the guy who brings him food,” Phillips said. “I’ll do little things, like having him eat the food out of my hand versus just giving him the bowl of food, so he knows, ‘Well, food is coming from this guy, so I should be nice to him and maybe listen.’”
Tux replaces Pax, a fellow Belgian Malinois, who served as the sheriff’s dog for 6½ years and conducted more than 70 captures. The 8-year-old Pax suffered an injury after chasing a ball down an embankment and was off the streets for about six months.
He eventually trained up and got recertified. Pax had the ability to work a little longer, Phillips said, but doing so would probably take years off his life.
Around the same time the sheriff’s office was considering a new dog, the Washington County Sheriff’s Office was looking for a new home for Tux. After five years on the job, his former handler had moved into the agency’s public affairs unit.
The timing couldn’t have been better.
Phillips was excited at the prospect, as he had met Tux multiple times at canine training exercises around the state.
“They wanted Tux to be able to come to a good home,” Phillips said. “He has a lot of years of working life in him, and I think he’ll be able to serve the sheriff’s office and citizens really well here.”
Phillips has been involved with canine work ever since he was a cadet with the sheriff’s office, serving as a decoy for the previous handler and taking bites from the dog during training exercises. He long has been in awe of what they can do.
“I think (canine units) can make a difference. Their noses are tremendously better than ours, and unfortunately we have this huge opiate problem nationwide,” he said. “So, I mean, if we can get more drugs off the streets through traffic stops and interdiction stops, that’s a win.”
He also loves the bond that is formed with each dog.
“I think sometimes my wife is jealous because I spend more time with the dogs,” Phillips joked. “But it’s definitely a bond that’s really unbreakable ... I’ll do a traffic stop with (Pax), and he’ll be upright watching what I’ve got going on ... just ready to spring into action and save the day.”
Even in retirement, Pax won’t stray far from Phillips. He will spend his days living the good life, eating steak and laying on the couch.
Though he is ready and excited to start training with Tux, Phillips can’t help but admit it will feel strange not putting Pax into his rig anymore.