McFARLAND, WI – Boris entered Spartan Bowl on Saturday morning and passed a table offering adorable stuffed animals of himself. He eyed the bustling place with equal parts Ol’ West showdown intensity and tail-waggin’ playfulness.
The latter won when he spotted bowling balls being rolled down the lanes.
His new handler, McFarland police officer Jeremy Job, kept Boris focused on his task as ambassador for the fundraising event. Boris responded to Job immediately, the dog’s head rose and his McFarland Police K-9 badge shined.
This was Boris’ first public appearance at a big community event since his original handler, 33-year-old Ryan Copeland, died in a car accident while on duty Nov. 23.
Called Bowling for Boris and coordinated by McFarland resident Sara Phelan, the event raised thousands of dollars to help fund travel expenses for several McFarland police officers and Copeland family members to travel to Washington, D.C., for a tribute to fallen officers.
Copeland’s widow, Amanda, was there Saturday. Boris recognized her instantly, and she warmly gave the German shepherd a long and loving scratch.
Caring for Boris now is Job (pronounced “jobe”). With his wife, Amy, and their two children, ages 7 and 3, Job has Boris at their home when he’s not on duty.
While Boris took a break from the fundraiser to relax in the roomy squad car Saturday, Job sat away from the crowds in a booth to talk about handling Boris. When the conversation turned to Copeland, Job made his duty clear.
“The dog is still Ryan’s dog. He put in all the training to get Boris where he is today,” Job said. “My role is to help him keep working. I’m not replacing Ryan. I’m continuing what Ryan did.”
And Boris – two days after finishing his training with Job – helped to apprehend a suspect, who fled into woods in Monona after a traffic stop. Boris and Job assisted the Monona Police Department when the man couldn’t be found in deep wooded areas along Femrite Drive on Feb. 29.
Boris, able to follow human scent and even the smell of broken vegetation along a trail, tracked down the suspect who likely heard the approaching Boris and scrambled away – right into a perimeter police unit.
Job worked many of the same shift rotations as Copeland, so he became familiar with Boris. That made a difference to Job when he applied to become Boris’ handler last December.
“It’s a whole different level of dedication and willingness to do K-9 work,” Job said. “It’s a mix of a pet, plus taking care of the dog and training and doing your police work.”
Job’s family helps, too. Boris, like many K-9s, was originally trained in German, so his commands are in that language.
“Even my 3-year-old says some German,” Job said. “Boris adapted really well. He acts like a pet around the kids. He’s very protective of them and loves to play. But he’s gentle with them, too.”
Boris settled comfortably into the Job household, which already has a little white fluffy dog named Maddie.
“She was scared of (Boris) when he first came home,” Job said. “Now they’ll lie next to each other.”
There’s a tendency to put human feelings on dogs, even one like Boris who is trained to find narcotics and people, Job said.
But did Job think Boris realized that Copeland was gone?
“He knew something was wrong. It was very obvious he was confused and could sense something had happened,” Job said. “But these are pack animals in the world of nature, and when they lose their pack leader, someone else takes over. They can condition themselves with a new pack leader.
“Even so, during the transition time, it was obvious, he wondered where Ryan was.”
There’s also an attempt, given Boris’ legacy in McFarland, to want to turn him into a superhero every day.
“That’s his training. He knows what to do. I need to read him. Ryan trained the dog. My training is understanding Boris’ behaviors. I’m learning to read his body language and his cues,” Job said. “It’s going well. I have faith in the dog.”