Miami University's newest canine officer is part of the security team for Monday's visit by Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano.
Miami's first police dog, Ero, retired earlier this year. His replacement is a 1-1/2 year old Belgian Malinois named Figo. He and handler, Officer Keith Hibbard are hard at work today helping local and national authorities with the Secretary's appearance at the Fraternal Order of Police National Convention.
"We're always on call as part of the Homeland Security team," says Hibbard. "We're part of a regional response team from the Emergency Management Agency as well as four other canines in the area. So anytime there's a dignitary that comes to town or any type of incident where they need an explosives dog, we're one of the folks that responds."
Hibbard says it's exactly that involvement that brought Figo to Miami. Homeland Security purchased the dog for the police department with the understanding they'll continue to partner with the agency.
Figo is an energetic and friendly canine officer. In addition to sniffing out bombs and explosives, he's trained in search and rescue. Hibbard says that's important, especially considering all the wooded areas in Butler County and around Miami University.
"This is a force multiplier for us. The dog's nose is so much stronger than a human's. It's so much easier for them to locate people than it is for folks just walking around kicking the bushes," he says.
Unlike his predecessor, Figo isn't a biting dog. He's trained to alert his handler by siting down when he finds a missing subject rather than biting like a dog tracking a criminal might do.
When they aren't searching for people or bombs, Figo and Hibbard work on training and interact with the community and Miami students. The university created the canine unit in 2005. Hibbard says it was just cheaper to have their own dog rather than constantly paying other agencies to come in whenever one was needed. It also increases response times as the closest units would have to come from Cincinnati or Wright Patterson Air Force Base.
Though he looks a bit like a German Shepherd, Figo is actually a Belgian Malinois. And he speaks Dutch.
"It's actually tough because my last dog was from Germany and his commands were in German. Sometimes I get it mixed up. I think we're going to make Figo bilingual," laughs Hibbard.