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K-9 leaves Air Force to join Falmouth police force

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K-9 leaves Air Force to join Falmouth police force

FALMOUTH — Before they adopted Maxi, they read up on his history, disposition and intelligence. The 2-year-old seemed to meet – even exceed – what the Falmouth Police Department was looking for.

But they weren't sure until Lt. John Kilbride traveled to Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas, to meet the German shepard face to face.

"He was the first dog I looked at and he impressed me in five minutes," Kilbride said. "I was impressed by his disposition."

After testing the dog's temperament by "trying to get bitten by him," Kilbride tested his hunt drive and prey drive with a ball. By throwing the ball, he determined Maxi was enthusiastic; by hiding it in the grass, he observed the dog using his nose, not his eyes, to locate it.

"You want a dog who's always sniffing – it's a good indicator he'll perform wonderfully in our field," Kilbride said.  "We don't need his eyes, we need his nose."

Besides getting a K-9 well on his way to being trained for police work, by adopting Maxi from the Air Force, the department also saved thousands of dollars in the process and rescued a dog that did not meet military standards, Kilbride said.

A police dog of Maxi's caliber would normally cost about $9,000, he said. But Lackland offers police departments free dogs that are turned down as Military Working Dogs or have been retired from duty. The only cost to the town was the plane flights for Kilbride and Maxi.

Though the dog was rejected for military service, Kilbride said that's not a concern for the department.

"The dog has been trained more than the last dogs we've had," he said.

Maxi's training must now be focused on his duties as a police dog and address issues that are correctable by the combination of training, living in a family environment rather than in a kennel and having a single handler.

That handler is Officer Kevin Conger Jr., who Kilbride said was chosen because he is "a good performer, in good shape and has strong communication and written skills." Kilbride should know what it takes – he was handler for Falmouth's last K-9, Yardie, who retired earlier this year.

Conger and Maxi are bonding this week, but on Monday will join a group of 16 law enforcement dogs and begin training at the Windham Correctional Center, Kilbride said.

"The dog has more training on what to do than Kevin does," Kilbride said. "It's Kevin that needs training; we need to train them as a team."

Though Maxi has been trained in apprehension and narcotics, he is lacking in the areas of obedience, article searches and building searches, Kilbride said.  But Kilbride expects that, as a high-intelligence dog, those shortfalls will not be hard to correct.

And Conger can't wait to get started. When he picked up Kilbride and Maxi at the airport, the dog climbed into the car next to him and nestled his head against Conger's shoulder. The two began bonding immediately and Conger said he looks forward to working in the community with the dog.

"This was a program I was always very interested in," he said. "I'm very excited about doing it."

Peggy Roberts can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or proberts@theforecaster.net.