Man's best friend one of Valley's most versatile cops<br>

He could be the ultimate police officer.

He can run up to 35 miles an hour. He can watch his partner's back every waking minute of the day. He can protect his partner from anyone that attacks him.

And, it doesn't bother him that he doesn't get to drive the car.

He is the newest member of the Cottonwood Police Department.

He is Vendo, a 75-pound Belgian Malinois who just completed all of his formal training and has taken his spot in the back seat of Ron Ekholm's patrol car.

Like most law enforcement dogs, Vendo was born in Europe, Belgium to be exact, and trained by the Royal Danish Police Dog Association. He officially joined the Cottonwood Police Department Jan. 29 and has been involved with special training along with Ekholm since then.

Now, he is ready to take his place as Cottonwood's latest K-9 cop.

Vendo's duties will be primarily in the area of searching for suspects and evidence.

"Vendo will be used to locate suspects hidden in buildings, vehicles or open areas by their smell, Ekholm explained. "The dog searches for the human scent in the area identified by the handler, not the scent of the subject being looked for."

As a searcher for suspects, Vendo is much more valuable than a regular police officer because of his sense of smell and the training he has received to overcome some of the natural urges one usually associates with dogs and their noses.

"He could care less about other dogs, cats, chickens, pigs," Ekholm said. "He has been trained to ignore scents that are not related to what he is looking for."

While Vendo will be used to find suspects, he can be used to find lost children with Ekholm taking special precautions.

"In a real pinch, I'd put a 30-foot leash on him and start looking," Ekholm said.

As a searcher for drugs, Vendo should be as successful as some of his counterparts. These types of dogs can find an amount as small as a marijuana seed in a recreational vehicle. Vendo has been trained in similar situations.

Vendo can also find evidence items.

Having a four-legged cop allows for some increased safety for Cottonwood police officers.

"Instead of having to crawl through a window with broken glass into a dark room, we send in the dog," Ekholm said. "As attached to him as I am, I'd rather see something happen to him than one of my fellow officers."

Even though he lives with his police officer/handler, Vendo truly is the community's police dog, Ekholm said.

"This community raised the money to get him," Eckholm said. More than $9,000 was raised to cover the expenses of purchasing a partially trained dog from Europe and paying for the more specialized training in the United States.

While Ekholm is happy to have a dog with Vendo's skills and abilities riding in the back seat, one can tell that having a four-legged partner is also, in many ways, a perk for the police officer.

"He laughs at all of my jokes," Ekholm chuckled. "And when you are having a bad day, there is nothing better than reaching up and petting this guy or scratching him behind the ears."

Vendo shatters one more myth about police work — he doesn't eat donuts.

"He exists on about four ounces of food a day," Ekholm said.

The food, a high-grade commercially available brand, is supplied through a donation by Olsen's Grain.

"That's just another way this community has gotten behind this program," Ekholm said.

Vendo replaces Rex, Cottonwood's former K-9 cop, who fought a losing battle against cancer.

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