It’s just past 4:30 on a Tuesday afternoon when Eagle County Sheriff’s Office (ECSO) deputy Rebecca Anderson goes on duty in downtown Eagle with her new partner. Echo, a 1-year-old German shepherd with a jet-black coat, hops out of Anderson’s SUV and places her front paws on a visitor’s chest. “She’s horribly antisocial,” Anderson, 42, deadpans.
Echo, who started her job in November, is the first patrol dog to work for the sheriff’s office in two years. Imported from Frankfurt, Germany, and trained in Colorado Springs, she is not a “bite dog” like you see on TV, chasing down bad guys and subduing them with force. She’s more of a canine detective: while her specialty is sniffing out narcotics, she’s also trained in tracking suspects and in evidence search, using her nose to find a gun or a stolen wallet tossed from a speeding car. But Echo is still a puppy. So even though she punched the clock at 4 for a shift that runs until 3:30 a.m., she’s more interested in play than work, demanding to know what sort of treats the visitor might have to offer.
Only after Anderson, a 13-year ECSO veteran, puts her back in the vehicle does Echo simmer down. Until she spots three deer and in exacting detail tells her partner all about the shady characters lurking in the scrub. Anderson slips part of a jerky stick through the metal kennel behind her seat and pulls out of the lot.
“Echo, quiet please,” Anderson says.
“All right, Princess. That’s enough.”
Echo abides—thanks to more jerky. At 65 pounds and almost full grown, she doubles as Anderson’s pet when she’s not on duty. As a narcotics dog, Echo is trained to passively alert—by sitting, lying down, or simply staring—if she smells cocaine, methamphetamine, ecstasy, heroin, or psilocybin mushrooms. Her job involves everything from sniffing lockers at local schools to catching drug runners on Interstate 70. (She’s not trained to alert for marijuana since that substance is legal in Colorado.) Her first big bust came during a traffic stop in November: She alerted on $29,000 in cash, which indicated the bills had been handled by someone with drug residue on their hands. Later this year, once she has reached her full size, Echo will be outfitted with her own bulletproof vest.
As the only law enforcement K9 team in Eagle County, Echo and her human are on call 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. During a typical shift, which involves patrolling 30 miles of I-70 from east to west and about 40 miles of roads from north to south, Echo hangs out in her backseat kennel while Anderson looks for “anything out of the ordinary.” Echo gets a bathroom break once an hour and instead of doughnuts, her preferred fast food is jerky—so much that Anderson has to stop at home and resupply.
On this particular night, in addition to the trio of deer, the only interlopers Echo encounters are a herd of elk loitering in Dotsero and a pair of neighborhood dogs on the loose in Gypsum. All is quiet in Eagle County, except the puppy on patrol.
Editor's note/update: On May 7, 2020, the Eagle County Sheriff's Office issued this news release:
Eagle County Sheriff’s Office K9 Echo has received a donation of body armor
Eagle County - Eagle County Sheriff’s Office K9 Echo has received a bullet and stab protective vest thanks to a charitable donation from non-profit organization Vested Interest in K9s, Inc. The vest was sponsored by Agnes Harakal of Eagle, CO, and embroidered with the sentiment “In memory of Deputy Inspector Joseph Cassidy NYPD”.
Vested Interest in K9s, Inc. is a 501c(3) charity located in East Taunton, MA whose mission is to provide bullet and stab protective vests and other assistance to dogs of law enforcement and related agencies throughout the United States. The non-profit was established in 2009 to assist law enforcement agencies with this potentially lifesaving body armor for their four-legged K9 officers. Since its inception, Vested Interest in K9s, Inc. provided over 3,867 U.S. made, custom-fitted, NIJ certified protective vests in 50 states, through private and corporate donations, at a value of $6.9 million dollars.
The program is open to dogs actively employed in the U.S. with law enforcement or related agencies who are certified and at least 20 months of age. New K9 graduates, as well as K9s with expired vests, are eligible to participate.
The donation to provide one protective vest for a law enforcement K9 is $960.00. Each vest has a value between $1,744 – $2,283, and a five-year warranty and an average weight of 4-5 lbs. There are an estimated 30,000 law enforcement K9s throughout the United States. For more information or to learn about volunteer opportunities, please call 508-824-6978. Vested Interest in K9s, Inc. provides information, lists events, and accepts tax-deductible donations of any denomination at www.vik9s.org or mailed to P.O. Box 9 East Taunton, MA 02718.