BLOUNTVILLE — After sniffing out pounds of drugs, performing approximately 200 tracks for missing and wanted persons, and helping seize more than $100,000 in illegal proceeds, health issues are forcing Baro to call it a career.
For seven years, the K9 has served the Sullivan County Sheriff’s Office in both patrol work and narcotic searches. But with a spinal condition now hindering his movement, the tough call has been made to put the dog out to pasture.
“He’s going to live with a fellow officer and friend with more land to roam and access for us to go see him,” said SCSO Officer Aaron Smith, Baro’s handler for the past four years.
Over that time, the K9 has stayed with, and became a part of, Smith’s family.
“It was a decision that took a long time to make. But I think with this he’ll be a lot happier,” Smith said.
Smith said he and his partner have developed an uncanny and crucial rapport. If one is anxious or apprehensive, the other reads and reacts accordingly. It’s those subtle keys that can make the difference between an escape or arrest and help ensure both K9 and handler end their shift safely.
And while Smith says being a handler “is the best thing you can do in law enforcement,” there’s a fairly universal flaw in the partnership: Once the pair are synched on the same page, it’s usually time for the K9 to retire.
“If I’m nervous, he knows what to do,” Smith said. “Now I’ll be starting over with another dog.”
It’s fair to say that over his time at the sheriff’s office Baro has sunk his teeth into the job. Last June, a wanted Sullivan County man attacked a woman and child on Highway 421, then refused police commands to come from the home’s crawl space. An arrest report on the incident says Baro was able to persuade the suspect, who gave himself up “a few seconds” after the dog latched onto “his left buttocks.”
This past January, two men invaded a Rock Springs home, attacking the residents and making off with medication. Baro tracked them to a nearby residence, where police overheard the men “bragging and laughing” about the incident. Once again a suspect resisted and attempted to fight officers, including Baro, who clasped onto the man’s arm until he could be cuffed.
But Smith is quick to caution that police K9s are not just attack dogs. Baro has also searched for missing Alzheimer’s patients and children, and cleared more than 150 businesses and residences on alarm calls.
Police say he also conducted approximately 60 demonstrations to various institutions and groups throughout the community, strengthening relationships between citizens and law enforcement.
With Baro’s retirement, the Sullivan County Sheriff’s Office now has five K9/handler teams, and hopes to add a new dog for Smith to train.