Our Protectors

We don’t usually think about them until we need them. And by that point, we really need them. Police, fire, search and rescue, U.S. Coast Guard, advocates for children—they all step in at times of crisis.For some, like those who fight wildfires, the work is intensely physical. For others, like search-and-rescue, it can be highly specialized—picture rescuing someone on a rock ledge with ropes and a litter. Or our protectors might need a high degree of technological and psychological knowhow, like the police detective and children’s advocate who help protect kids from online predators and other criminals. In many cases, whenever our protectors get dressed for work, they are preparing to put themselves in harm’s way to help people they probably don’t even know. On the next pages, we profile some of our North Sound protectors to find out how, and why, they do what they do.

The last light of day is disappearing alongside Smith Road in Bellingham. The vibrant red sunset gives way to darker blues as cars rush by, kicking up gusts of air on an already windy evening. Police dog Zeff ignores the passing vehicles and the air’s changing scent, his focus never straying. His snout is pressed to the ground, two black-brown ears twitch in different directions.

Suddenly, Zeff’s head bobs up, alerting his handler he’s caught onto something. Picking up speed, he leads the way through blackberry bushes and weeds to an abandoned building where the suspect is hiding. Success!

Zeff’s triumph on this day came during a training session. For years, police canines like him have been trained to apprehend suspects sought on charges ranging from burglary to murder, proving that sometimes our protectors come with four legs and an intensely discerning nose.

In April, K-9 units from Whatcom County, Mount Vernon, and Bellingham helped detain a man who was wanted for murder following the death of his wife. The San Juan County Sheriff’s Office issued a warrant for the suspect, believed to be in the Whatcom County area. The suspect was identified in Marblemount and when local officers arrived, he was wielding a large knife and had what appeared to be self-inflicted wounds. After attempted negotiations, the man refused to put down his weapon and officers released a canine officer. The man dropped his knife and officers were able to safely take him into custody.

The Bellingham Police Department canine unit, the longest continually running K-9 unit in Washington, began in 1969. Bellingham police officer and certified canine evaluator, Shan Hanon, has been working with dogs for 25 years. “He has the patience of a saint,” says Zach Wright, Mount Vernon police officer. “He really cares about the canine industry as a whole, and he does all the administrative work behind the scenes to make everyone else shine.”

Hanon’s current canines are Jax, a jet-black German shepherd with soft brown paws and a golden-eyed black Labrador named Marley. Jax is cross-trained in patrol and narcotics detection and Marley is an explosive detection dog. The dogs are trained in different languages based on where they came from; Jax listens to German and Marley responds to Dutch commands.

“Their reliability is uncanny, a dog will give you everything they’ve got,” Hanon says. “They’re your best friends.”

In late August, the Bellingham K-9 unit successfully arrested four suspects who robbed 2020 Solutions, a Bellingham cannabis store, of more than $20,000 in merchandise. Police arrived at the store after they were notified the store’s alarm had been triggered. The suspects sped off in a getaway car before hitting a curb, blowing their tires, and continuing to flee on foot. Two dogs and their officers from Bellingham, along with a Whatcom County K-9 officer, detained the four suspects after tracking them in a search area.

Bellingham Police Department
505 Grand Ave., Bellingham
360.778.8800, cob.org

To continue reading Our Protector feature series, click here for the next story.

"Whether they’re tracking a suspect of robbery or sniffing for bombs in a crowd, police dogs and their handlers are putting their lives on the line to keep the public safe."