Police partnered with pooches

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, October 10, 2000

Police officers Matt Holten and Steve Wald may be the luckiest guys in the department.

Tuesday, October 10, 2000

Police officers Matt Holten and Steve Wald may be the luckiest guys in the department.

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Both are patrolmen in the Austin Police Department and each has a partner, but in their case, it’s no ordinary partner.

In Holten’s case, it’s Rocket.

For Wald, it’s Maddie.

Holten and Wald are paired with canine units. Holten’s partner is a dual-purpose animal used for apprehension and drug detection. Wald’s is a people-finder.

"Both of our canine units add a special dimension to the department and give officers the ability to do things they otherwise could not do," Police Chief Paul M. Philipp said.

"I think just by that one instance Maddie has proven her worth to law enforcement," Wald said.

That incident occurred last May at Shakopee, when a 10-year-old boy was reported missing by his parents on a Friday evening.

Wald and Maddie were asked to help in the search. "Maddie was one of three dogs used in the search and we weren’t called in until the Sunday morning following the disappearance of the boy," recalled Wald.

When Maddie indicated on an apartment building no less than three different times, officers found the missing boy alive and well and spending the weekend – unbeknownst to his parents – with a friend.

Although only a puppy, Maddie, all 100 pounds of her, is fast becoming a veteran at police work. At the relatively tender dog’s age of 15 months, she successfully completed the North America Search and Rescue Network’s training Sept. 16-22 at South Bend, Neb.

While Wald served as a trainer for dogs and their handlers from law enforcement agencies and private search and rescue agencies, Maddie breezed through all three levels of training to achieve the highest level of certification.

"We’re all pleased and excited that Maddie could do so well," Philipp said.

Prouder still was the police chief and Maddie’s handler after the dog was chosen by the Cass County, Neb., Sheriff’s Department to help them solve a rash of burglaries.

The dog indicated on beer bottles left at the scene of a boathouse burglary and others found along the apparent getaway route of the burglars.

According to Wald, fingerprints from the evidence at the crime scene and along the getaway route matched, so Nebraska authorities have a solid lead in their investigation.

"When you stop and think how she bypassed deer and raccoon road kill carcasses lying along the side of the road and all the garbage that is in the roadside ditches to stay on the trail following the scent, it’s really pretty amazing what she did," her handler said.

Wald worked three years for the Fargo, N.D., Police Department before coming to Austin 10 years ago.

He and his wife Dianna, a Head Start Program teacher at Blooming Prairie, have two daughters, Krista, 21, and Kayla, 17, and a son, Kevin, 15.

The history of canine units in the Austin department goes back to former officer Kevin Royce, who had the first. Officer Holten and his partner, Ihrko, came next, only to be replaced by Rocket.

Wald convinced the police chief that the department also could use a people-finder and nine years ago he and Ginger, a full-blooded bloodhound were matched up That was 1991 and the two distinguished themselves on several occasions. When Ginger was discovered to have cancer of the lymph nodes, she was put to sleep. In September 1999, the department approved replacing Ginger with Maddie.

Wald’s latest canine partner came from a litter of purebred bloodhounds owned by Rod Zimmerman of Hollandale.

"She passed all the tests the first time I saw her," Wald said.

Maddie, like other bloodhounds, indicates on the dead skin cells shed by every human being every day. "And," Wald reminded, "every human has a different scent."

Maddie can track a human, driving down the road in a car as her successful training run in Nebraska attests. Wald and other family members spend between 15 and 20 hours each week training Maddie, working trails 100 yards to one mile in length and one hour to 36 hours old.

"It’s amazing, when you consider she’s so good already and she hasn’t reached maturity yet. When she’s 2 or 3 years old, she’ll be better yet," Wald said.

According to the patrolman, the Austin department is "thinking about" adding another canine unit to the second shift. That dog, like Holten’s, would be a dual-purpose animal capable of sniffing drugs as well as apprehending criminals.

Wald and Maddie are available for school visits as well as demonstrations and programs before clubs and organizations.

For more information, call 437-9400.