Canines have become a staple of law enforcement agencies around the world. Like many jurisdictions, Fayetteville’s K-9 corps is comprised of two primary breeds, the Belgian Malinois and German Shepherd. The latter is the most popular breed of police dog. The Shepherd is a 200-year-old breed in the herding class of working dogs. Law enforcement began using them for crowd control in the 1950s. The Belgian Malinois (pronounced Mal-In-Wah) is a smaller, sleeker version of the German Shepherd. These animals are imported from Holland. This 135-year-old breed is popular with police because they are hard-working dogs with a high level of endurance. They’re noted for their intelligence, speed and agility. The Malinois is the second most popular breed of canine in service in the United States.
What may come as a surprise to some is that the Fayetteville Police Department is among the most experienced canine agencies in North Carolina. The department is staffed with 14 teams of dogs and handlers. Some of the handlers have been K-9 cops for more than 20 years, including Lt. Stacey Smith. He’s been with the FPD for 29 years and has been a dog handler for his entire career.
As the unit supervisor, Smith is not assigned a dog but tells Up & Coming Weekly “I spend more time on the streets than most lieutenants.” Eleven teams of canines and cops are assigned to the city’s three patrol districts. Additionally, three animals are on special duty. Two are drug sniffing dogs assigned to the narcotics bureau. The third specializes in detecting explosives. Several
dog teams are on duty at any given time.
“We’ve got a lot of ground to cover,” Smith notes.
Fayetteville is among the largest cities in the state, area wise, encompassing 148 square miles, more than Raleigh, Durham and Winston-Salem.
Officer Heather Napieralski and her dog Hemi comprise what likely is the most important team in the unit. Napieralski is the training officer and she stays busy every day she’s on duty.
“Constant training is what keeps the animals sharp,” she says. And there’s a lot of it. Fayetteville Police dogs are trained and retrained in obedience, agility, tracking, trailing, searching and narcotics and explosives detection.
“All of our dogs live with their partners at home,” Napieralski says. They stay outdoors. Their training includes acclimation to family life in that “we need to let the dogs be dogs,” she adds with a smile. Smith says a typical police dog can weigh from 45 to 120 pounds. Their average life expectancy ranges from 8 to 14 years.
Most police dogs are imported from established vendors in Holland and Germany. Smith says it’s less expensive to import them because they’ve been raised and initially trained by credentialed dealers who confirm each animal’s lineage and good health.
Locally, Dr. J.K. Garrett, DVM, owner of the Animal Hospital of Fayetteville, has been the Police Department’s veterinarian for many years. Retirement is not something the animals or the cops look forward to. Smith says the vet and trainer determine when that time comes. In most instances the K-9s then become family dogs with their masters.