Police dog nearing end of career

K-9 officer Ghost gets a hold of Austin Police Officer Ryan Leif during a demonstration at a past National Night Out event. -- Herald file photo

One could call them best friends who get to work together nearly every night.

They are Lt. Matt Holten of the Austin Police Department and his K-9, Ghost. However, all good things must come to an end, and Holten knows that time is nearing.

Ghost, a 7-year-old Belgian malinois, all-star K-9 competitor and everyday family dog, has struggled with epilepsy for about a year. While some days he may have a seizure, it’s mostly back to work without issue — for now.

Last week, Ghost showed his best at National Night out when kids got to toss balls and watch him retrieve. Ghost’s narcotics tracking and apprehension skills are still top notch, as spectators watched a take-down demonstration as well.

Ghost competed in the Region 12 police K-9 competition in late June in Sauk Rapids, Minn., and earned first place as a dual purpose dog (narcotics and apprehension). With his Austin K-9 co-worker and brother, Bosco, he also took first in the team competition out of nearly 65 dogs. Those are just a few of his numerous awards.

Yet Ghost has a life like other dogs, outside the work, training and competitions. He lives with Holten and his family in Austin.

“All police K-9 programs revolve around having the dog live in a family structure,” Holten said, and elaborated on how older programs were different, such as several officers sharing a dog and keeping at the station. “That didn’t work. A dog needed structure, just like people do.”

While Ghost is almost always all-business when he’s out of the house, he can relax on the inside, jump on the couch and interact with the family as he pleases.

“He’ll listen to my kids and my wife, if he feels like it,” Holten said. “But there aren’t any consequences if he doesn’t.”

Holten has been involved with police dogs since 1986, he said. Ghost is his fourth companion.

“I love it,” Holten said. “I’ve been involved in it in some way shape or form for more than 25 years, and I wouldn’t keep doing it if I didn’t really enjoy it.”

Even though Ghost is only 7, Holten and veterinarians know K-9s with epilepsy are bound to a life of medications that will eventually take their toll. Soon, he will have to retire, police say. Holten said he has arrangements to get another puppy when the time comes. Until then, Ghost is committed to protecting Austin until the end.

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