Yarmouth's first police dog earns well-deserved retirement
YARMOUTH — Until last week, he was the town's "Sultan" of searches.
This week, Sultan, the first dog employed by the Police Department, is settling into retirement.
The 10-year-old German shepherd was a fixture in the department for more than eight years, searching for missing people, missing property and illegal drugs.
Sultan was also the first dog to join the force, brought on board in a program implemented by former Patrolman Micheal Vogel.
Vogel joined the department about four years before Sultan; the two departed together as Vogel left last week for a new job in Florida. He said Sultan will become a pet for Officer Shane Stephenson of the South Portland Police Department.
"It is going to be tough, I am not looking forward to it," Vogel said a day before he parted company with Sultan.
Yarmouth Police Chief Michael Morrill said the department will not be the same without Vogel and Sultan, although he said he understands why both were moving on.
"We will miss them immensely," Morrill said.
He said the K-9 program came about because Vogel made a proposal Morrill and town councilors supported. Community support, including donations of cash, veterinary care and pet supplies, allowed Sultan to be cared for without police budget allocations, Morrill said.
Additional funding for his care and equipment expenses came from forfeitures of cash and property stemming from Sultan's work finding drugs.
"It was always what I wanted to do in police work," Vogel said.
Sultan, who grew to be about 85 pounds, was known through town for a throaty bark, Vogel said.
"When he works, he is a police dog. When he is at home, he is a gentle giant," Vogel said about his 85-pound companion.
At home, where Vogel and his wife raised four children, Sultan was a family member – an alert family member.
"If I moved around at home, his eyes were open. They are not just like normal pets," Vogel said.
After his initial eight-week training course at the Maine Criminal Justice Academy, Sultan took another eight-week course learning to detect drugs. Vogel said Sultan could sniff out marijuana, hashish, methamphetamine, cocaine and heroin.
"He found pounds and pounds of stuff," Vogel said. "You could try to mask it, but he could sniff it out."
First he was trained to track people, whether they were running from the law or had unwittingly wandered away. Because Yarmouth has several nursing homes and assisted living centers, Morrill and Vogel said Sultan quickly proved his worth on the force.
In training exercises, Sultan was brought into rooms where drugs or objects were concealed. When he found the hiding spot, he sat. When the objects or drugs were retrieved by Vogel, Sultan was rewarded with a rubber chew toy.
"He didn't care about other smells, he knew he was getting a reward," Vogel said.
When pursuing suspects, Vogel said Sultan was trained to bite, but also to quickly release a suspect when officers approached.
Morril said the department is still evaluating whether to continue its K-9 program. It was not uncommon for Vogel and Sultan to assist neighboring departments, and Morrill said his department could use the Falmouth Police Department dog if necessary, and added Yarmouth police would have to buy a new cruiser, leashes and car cage if the program continues.
"The program did work out extremely well, though," Morrill concluded.