Meet Sheriff’s Office K9 Taz

The exceptionally trained dogs that make up the K9 unit of the Larimer County Sheriff’s Office are more than mere law enforcement tools. They serve and protect for just as many hours as their human handlers, but they also enjoy a comfortable but disciplined family life at home.

One such K9 is 5-year-old Taz, a Belgian Malinois who spends nearly 24 hours a day in the company of K9 Patrol Deputy Mike Gurwin. Deputy Gurwin has been with the Larimer County Sheriff’s Office for eight years and became a K9 handler four years ago, when he selected Taz at the K9 training facility in Indiana.

“It’s a huge commitment,” Deputy Gurwin said. “But it’s great to be able to combine my passion for the job and my love of dogs.”

Taz passed the selection test to determine whether he had the hunt drive and energy required of a working dog in law enforcement, and Deputy Gurwin aptly named him after Looney Tunes’ frenetic Tasmanian Devil. Together they returned to Colorado to complete 10 weeks of intensive K9 academy training and now work together every day and go home together every night. Family camping trips and hiking are just a couple of the off-duty pursuits Taz also enjoys.

While on duty, Taz rides in the area behind the driver’s seat of the patrol truck. Deputy Gurwin said Taz and the other dogs in the unit are deployed an average of three to four times per shift. The deputies have remote controls with them, called door poppers, that allow them to open the vehicle door remotely to “deploy” the K9 in case of a foot pursuit or if someone is resisting arrest or becoming violent. The dogs are also trained to disengage without any physical intervention by the deputy, known as verbal recall.

When Taz and Deputy Gurwin’s shift is over, Taz gets to go home and become a part of the Gurwin family. Deputy Gurwin said each deputy handler is responsible for socializing their new K9 to off-duty life, including introducing them to children and other pets and ensuring they all get along.

“When you first get them, you keep a close eye on them and break it down to the pack level, making sure they know that the kids and family are above them [in the hierarchy],” he said.

The Sheriff’s Office wants the dogs to be friendly and social when not working so the public can have positive interactions with them while at K9 demonstrations or community events.

Instead of food treats, the dogs are rewarded with their favorite toys during training. The toy of choice for Taz? A classic yellow tennis ball. And no table scraps for these highly disciplined K9s either. Poudre Pet & Feed Supply supports the Sheriff’s Office by providing, free of charge, all of the Fromm dog food that fuels Taz and the other hard-working dogs in the department.

“It’s a privilege to be able to help care for these dogs that work and train so hard to keep us all safe,” said Karen Horak, co-owner of Poudre Pet & Feed Supply.

A trained K9 works side by side with their deputy handler for about eight years, and at the end of the dog’s service time their handler can choose to adopt them. Deputy Gurwin said he’s never known a handler not choose to adopt. The handler may then select a new K9 partner (and thus live with and care for two highly trained dogs) or can choose to switch departments and leave the K9 unit.

There are eight dogs in the Larimer County Sheriff’s Office K9 unit. Two are Labrador retrievers that are classified as single-purpose K9s and are assigned only to the jail, performing regular narcotics sweeps. The remaining six, including Taz, are dual-purpose dogs that not only detect drugs but also go out on patrols to perform suspect tracking and apprehension, and building and evidence searches. They include Belgian Malinois, German shepherds and Dutch shepherds, and all of the K9s respond only to Dutch language commands.

To keep their skills sharp, the dogs and their handlers attend a 10-hour training two times a month. A recent training ran from 1-11 p.m. and utilized a padded bite suit and the department’s dog agility course located behind the Sheriff’s Office.

“The dogs give us a real advantage with their senses of smell, hearing and sight and their amazing athletic ability,” Deputy Gurwin said.