By Kara Lopp
Employees of the Mint Hill Police Department bid farewell recently to two of its finest – on four legs, that is.
Police K-9s Ajay and Bady have been off the job for weeks but were officially retired Thursday, April 25, with a vote from town commissioners. Their handlers bought the dogs from the department for $1 each. At about 8 years old, the two German shepherds have hit retirement age. The town plans to buy two new dogs in the 2013-14 fiscal year.
For now Mint Hill police will rely on dogs from other area agencies, including Matthews and Charlotte-Mecklenburg, when a K-9 is needed. Mint Hill K-9 officers regularly train with handlers from other departments including Charlotte-Mecklenburg, Matthews, Concord and the Mecklenburg County Sheriffs Office.
Both dogs were purchased in September 2007 from a police dog training facility in Greenville where handlers Sgt. Thomas McKenzie and Cpl. Damir Mahmutovic spent three months learning the ropes and training their dogs.
Since then, both officers say the working canines have been an integral part of crime fighting in Mint Hill and it’s been hard to go to work without them.
When McKenzie first met Ajay, the officer says he felt “hesitant” and “apprehensive.” McKenzie had just learned that the then 1 1/2-year-old dog had recently bitten one of the Greenville trainers in the calf, resulting in 29 stitches.
“I’d never been around a dog that bites for a living,” McKenzie said.
But the two quickly bonded and Ajay, McKenzie soon discovered, balanced his willingness to work with a social and calm personality. He allows McKenzie’s young son to tug on his tail and pull on his ears and is a favorite with children in the community.
On duty, though, he was all business, McKenzie said.
“He always loved riding around town and stepping up on the console to see what was going on,” he said. “I truly miss having him in the car with me.”
McKenzie has a lot of success stories to share. Ajay did especially well alerting officers to the presence of illegal drugs, he said.
“Just about every time someone thought there were drugs, he would find something,” McKenzie said. “Narcotics was definitely his strong suit.”
His presence also kept officers out of harm’s way, McKenzie said, recalling a time about four years ago where a building off Albemarle Road had been broken into and the suspect was still inside.
“We made the announcement to come out or the K-9 would be released. Ajay gave two loud barks and that’s all it took for the suspect to come out of the building. It potentially saved an officer getting hurt,” he said.
Ajay didn’t have much success with scent-tracking people, but his nose came through during a deep-woods training exercise in Charlotte when McKenzie lost his gun’s magazine. The track was about a mile long through thick brush and briars and they were near the end of training when McKenzie realized his magazine had fallen out somewhere in the woods.
“We did another track backward and (Ajay) found it in the woods. That was a huge relief. I didn’t want to have to explain that to my supervisors,” he said. “He definitely earned his pay that day.”
Ajay prefers that “pay” in the form of real meat bones – he won’t touch dog treats. His retirement plans include “sleeping, playing in the yard, sitting on the couch and just enjoying life,” McKenzie said.
Ask Mahmutovic to tell tales about his dog, Bady, and he’ll first pull out the picture of the pup he keeps in his wallet.
“He was the best partner I could ever have,” Mahmutovic said. “If every officer could have a dog … that would be the best investment ever.”
Bady was born in the Czech Republic and trained by a military policeman as a watchdog for his family. That background makes Bady less social and more protective of his territory – which at Mahmutovic’s home means he sticks close to his mother.
“That’s her dog,” he said. “She’s really spoiling him now.”
Mom makes sure Bady gets plenty of treats, puts ice cubes in his water and even cooks him the occasional steak. To celebrate her birthday this year, she fixed Bady a special meal. He once ate Mahmutovic’s entire six-inch sub when his back was turned, leaving the tomatoes, olives and cucumbers unscathed.
He’s been known to hop into the front seat and turn on the vehicle’s flashing lights or “help” Mahmutovic type reports with his paws. After work, the two often rode home with Bady’s head resting under Mahmutovic’s arm.
At work, Bady’s presence often led to suspects turning over illegal drugs to Mahmutovic so Bady would stay inside his patrol car.
“Because he was always so barky and aggressive, he made a name for himself and for me,” Mahmutovic said, adding the dog once found a brick of marijuana inside a vehicle trunk.
Shortly after moving to Mint Hill, Bady successfully located two suspects by using his nose during a police stop off Margaret Wallace Road. The vehicle’s male driver and female passenger fled and Bady found them both – one hiding in a nearby bush and the other in the breezeway of an apartment complex.
“I was so happy, I was glowing,” Mahmutovic said of their first find. “I was flying.”
K-9s also serve as an extra pair of eyes while on patrol. Bady once spotted two men breaking into a business at the Idlewild Plaza shopping center as Mahmutovic sat in the parking lot finishing reports on his laptop. Bady’s barking gave the two away.
“Wherever you’re looking, he’s looking the opposite way,” Mahmutovic said.
Bady’s retirement plans include long naps, eating lots of treats and playing with his Kong toys.