Brix retires from job as Huntington police dog

Huntington Police officer Alan Foster will retire his dog Brix on Friday, Jan. 15. Brix has worked for the Huntington Police Department since 2000, helping to protect Foster and track narcotics and missing people.
Huntington Police officer Alan Foster will retire his dog Brix on Friday, Jan. 15. Brix has worked for the Huntington Police Department since 2000, helping to protect Foster and track narcotics and missing people. Photo by Jessica Williams.

Published previously on Jan. 11, 2010.

Editor's note: Due to his spinal nerve disease, retired K9 Brix was put down on Feb. 3, 2010.

For 12-year-old Brix, his game as a police dog is approaching its final buzzer.

This Friday, Jan. 15, Brix will officially go into retirement from the Huntington Police Department - although his retirement may include the occasional drug bust - and live with Patrolman Alan Foster, his partner in crimestopping for the last 10 years.

For Foster, being canine handler wasn't always at the top of his wish list. He was approached multiple times to become a handler, and every time he turned it down.
Finally, he says, he was talked into visiting other canine handlers. They told Foster they used to think the same as him, but they got involved in the program and determined it was the best job in a police department that one could have.

So Foster gave it a shot, and he was met with problems just four to five weeks into the 16-week canine school with the Allen County Sheriff's Department. He was miserable, he says, because he and his first dog couldn't connect, no matter how hard the trainers tried.

That dog was sent away and Brix was brought in, and the new dog immediately did everything he was supposed to do.

"I really thought I opened myself up into a huge problem. I didn't think I would like this job. But those handlers are correct, this is absolutely the coolest thing you could do as a police officer," says Foster.

Brix has served a dual purpose for the Huntington Police Department.

"Brix is a handler protection narcotics dog. So his primary purpose is to locate items ... police can't find. He does that using his nose," Foster says, explaining that a dog's nose is 40 percent stronger than a human's nose.

Brix can sniff out marijuana, cocaine, methamphetamine, heroine, crack cocaine and Ecstasy tablets, as well as human scents of lost children, lost elderly persons, lost articles and those who run from police.

Some of the dog's big finds include six pounds of marijuana on a traffic stop for the Allen County Drug Task Force and an elderly woman who walked out of a nursing home.

Each item gives off a cone of scent, and dogs are trained to go into the wind and find the edge of the cone and zigzag until he reaches the tip of the cone where the object is located, Foster explains. And the dogs enjoy their work, he adds.

"A lot of times at demonstrations, I'll talk to (students) about, ‘Your parents are paying me to play with a dog.' Because everything we do is a game. It's hide-and-seek, fetch, everything that you do with a police dog is just a game. That's all he wants, is a reward; play with a tennis ball or me telling him he did a good job," Foster says.

"As soon as he sees me come out of my house with my uniform on, he's running around in circles, barking. He's ready to go to work."

But Brix is a purebred German shepherd and has developed a spinal condition caused by calcium build up in his spinal column, something common in the breed at his age. This buildup pinches his spinal cord and causes him pain and loss of function in his hind legs.

"This is something that every police canine handler will have to go through if he has a German shepherd. He'll either have dysplasia of the hips or this (spinal condition)," Foster says. And because Brix can't balance and coordinate his back side very well, it makes it hard for him to ride in a police car and counter Foster's turns, something that can cause the dog injury.

"His nose is fine. If his legs were fine, we'd still be working him. He doesn't look like he's (almost) 13, he looks like he's 2 ... He's old. It's time for him to retire," Foster says.

Upon retirement, Brix will live in the 12-foot by 12-foot heated kennel that was constructed when Brix first came to Huntington. All of the materials to build Brix's home were donated.

"About everything we've done with Brix was with donations. The community owns that dog. And that's what we're trying to do with the new dog, we want the community to own the dog, not tax dollars. That way we can show that this program is for the community, not taking money from the community," Foster says.

He says he thinks it's hard to justify using tax money when people are getting laid off.

A "green dog" (one that is not trained) costs $6,000 and this year, prices go up to $8,000. He says they will raise enough donations, but they aren't quite there yet.
As of Wednesday, Jan. 6, the Huntington County Commissioners donated $2,000, the towns of Markle and Warren each donated $500 and Andrews donated $250.

The new dog will go through the 16-week training course at the Fort Wayne K-9 Academy. It will also have continual training of 16 hours a month to keep its certification.

The new dog will also stay with Foster, but since each of the dogs will be alphas - leaders who think they are the best - the kennel will need to be split in two so the dogs don't fight.

There's no specific date for purchasing and training the dog, Foster says, maybe sometime in the spring and summer, and the department isn't without a dog; Heink is still around.

Foster says it's hard to prove in statistics that canine units stop crimes just by their sheer presence, but he guarantees it happens. He has been told by many people wanted for crimes that they would have ran from the police if it weren't for the dog.

Foster says he really can't describe his relationship with Brix.

"It's hard to explain police work-dog service. It's a weird bond ... he's a tool. He's a piece of equipment for me to use to locate contraband, narcotics and bad guys. I didn't think I was as close to him as I guess I am, because writing (the announcement of Brix's retirement) was kind of tough for me. It's hard to explain the bond you have. But he's been with me for the last 10 years on every drive, every patrol I did. He was my partner ... "

Anyone wishing to donate money to the fund for the new canine can send them to the Huntington Police Department, Attn: K-9 New Dog Fund, 300 Cherry St., Huntington, IN 46750.