New addition to KDH police force ready to sniff out crime

By on May 4, 2018

Officer Steven Gulledge and  Zar. (KDHPD)

The Kill Devil Hills Police Department’s newest member is only 2 years old, weighs about 71 pounds and is (generously) about 4 1/2  feet tall standing on his tip toes. But the department expects big things from him.

Meet Zar, the Department’s new K-9 officer.

Zar’s handler, Officer Steven Gulludge, has been with the agency since 2015.

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Previously,  Gulludge worked four years with the Forsythe County Sheriff’s Office special response team. He is an Army veteran, having served as an MP in Iraq from 2007-2009. Becoming a K-9 officer has been an aspiration since day one of his law enforcement career.

“I have always had a special passion for the K-9. I guess I first became interested just from watching police programs and seeing all the things the dogs could do such as tracking and narcotics detection. I felt it was something I’d want to do that would be very rewarding,” Gulludge said.

Police K-9s receive some basic training prior to meeting their future handlers. But from the day they are paired up, the dog’s learning begins in earnest. They are taught obedience, tracking, apprehension and other skills with the handler.

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The dog and handler develop a bond through an intensive eight-week training course where the working day can run from eight in morning to 11 at night.

Police K-9s are chosen by the handler. Some of it is just a gut instinct about how the handler and dog relate, but the handler is looking for specific things such as the dog’s play drive, its reaction to loud, unexpected noises and how it handles rough terrain. Gulledge said Zar always went toward noises and was a high-energy dog from the start.

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Zar was a “green dog,” meaning he was selected for police duties and had no prior experience in other work. He is trained in tracking (finding lost persons or persons fleeing from police), article searches, narcotics detection and apprehension. Gulledge noted that the dogs cannot be trained in certain overlapping skills: For example, a narcotics detection dog cannot also be trained in explosives detection.

The training is tough and only the best dogs make it through. In Zar’s class, 25 percent of the dogs were not able to complete the training. Those dogs will get another chance later, but they may best be suited as “single purpose” dogs (ones that just do narcotics detection, for example). Some of the dogs might find other career paths as service animals. For the others that can’t make it through, there’s the option of adoption and a regular life as a house pet.

Zar playing tug of war with First Fight Elementary School 6th Grader Sara Towler.

Gulledge noted that training and skills reinforcement will remain a part of Zar’s police career.

“Having a K-9 partner is nice, but there is a lot of hard work involved,” he said. “We train with the Dare County K-9 and other handlers at least once a week and go over all the fundamentals of obedience, tracking, narcotics detection and apprehension work.

“Zar is trained to only listen to me, so I’m solely responsible for making sure he stays sharp. We train a minimum of 8 hours a week, but he does get breaks where he can just be a dog.”

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