The McCracken County Sheriff's Department has a new member of the SWAT team.
He served two tours in Afghanistan with the 75th Army Rangers. However, while overseas in 2010 and 2011, he contracted Lyme disease, and was retired from the military at about 6 years old.
Seem young for a combat veteran? Not for a bomb dog.
The elite new member of the SWAT team is a four-legged, Belgian Malinois named Barook.
Serving as Chief Deputy Mike Turnbow's K-9 partner, Barook is trained in explosive detection, tracking, patrol and apprehension.
Turnbow was in the market for a new bomb dog to replace his previous K-9 partner, Shadow, who had served with him on the sheriff's department for six years before she was retired to his backyard because of her age.
Shadow came with Turnbow after he retired from the Kentucky State Police in December 2006 and joined the sheriff's department in January 2007. Turnbow has had eight dogs in his 24 years as a dog handler.
Shadow was 15 years old, and wasn't able to perform her duties anymore.
"Shadow wasn't able to search anymore because of her bad hips," Turnbow said. She was put down last week.
"That's the last thing a dog handler does. He or she knows that day is going to come. It just doesn't make it any easier," Turnbow said.
The sheriff's department purchased Barook from Elite K-9, a dog training facility in Boaz in late November. Since, Turnbow has trained with Barook, learning his commands and introducing him to new odors, including black powder, that will help him effectively search for bomb-making materials.
Barook is one of two bomb dogs working in western Kentucky. The second is a member of the Kentucky State Police Post 1.
Turnbow said 97 percent of bomb cases are just threats, but it's not a situation to take lightly.
"A bomb dog is something you don't need that often, but when you do, you do," Turnbow said.
"The dog can search a large area much faster than a human can, and it's much safer."
Prior to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, all bomb detection by canines was conducted on a leash. However, with the evolution of IEDs and VBIEDs (Vehicle Born Improvised Explosive Devices), bomb dogs were trained to work downrange from their handler, and the dog would indicate where explosives were hidden.
"Dog handler work in Afghanistan and Iraq was dangerous business. There was a bounty on both the handler's and the dog's heads.
"Barook survived. It makes you wish you could talk to him to learn what he's been through," Turnbow said.
Most bomb dogs are trained to obey commands in Dutch or French. Because so many are bred in Belgium and learn Dutch from the beginning, it's often easier to teach the handler a new language than to re-train the dog to speak English.
So it was not a surprise to learn that Barook is multilingual. It was a surprise to learn how many languages Barook recognized.
"His commands are a mixture of English, German, French and Dutch," Turnbow said. "He's smart. He knows more than I do. I had to learn what commands he would respond to through trial and error."
Barook is very capable even without commands. Turnbow says it doesn't matter what language he speaks, Barook can read his tone of voice. Barook will also follow his hand motions and is very watchful of his surroundings.
"When he hears the bolt of a rifle click, he's ready. When he hears rifle fire, he drags me toward it. It's obvious he's done a lot of entries and has seen a lot of action. He was well trained by the Rangers and he is quiet."
In an environment like Afghanistan, Lyme disease would have affected Barook's stamina, especially while participating in five-mile hikes in hot conditions. But not for civilian use, Turnbow said, and a local veterinarian has cleared him for work.
"He's full of energy. It didn't take us long to bond. It's like he was looking for someone to work with him," Turnbow added.
"He's got a home for the rest of his life."
Contact Carrie Dillard, a Paducah Sun staff writer, at 270-575-8657.
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