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Police dog, 14, still serving and protecting

Somerset Police Sgt. Mike Kappers and Xaro have worked together for about nine years. At 14 years old, Xaro could easily be retired from service, but he continues to stay on the job with the K-9 unit.

Xaro looks forward to going to work every day.

He just celebrated his 14th birthday, which - in human years - makes him approximately 98 years old.

"He's about 72 pounds; the vet said he is at his perfect weight and is in great shape," Somerset Police Sgt. Mike Kappers, Xaro's partner, said. "He loves to play ball; he acts just like a puppy."

As a dog of the Belgian Malinois breed, he has a lean build and brown/copper coloring. In fact, the only visible sign of his age is the touch of gray around his muzzle and paws.

Xaro got his start on the Somerset Police Force with former Somerset Police Sgt. Chris Martin in 1998 when he was 1 year old. Back then, the atmosphere of Somerset was radically different due to the bigger concerts and more incidents.

When Martin resigned in 2001, Kappers took over and kept Xaro as a pet for the next year.

He decided to enroll Xaro in a six-week training course in Arizona before joining the 12-week St. Paul K-9 training course. However, the instructors were so impressed with Xaro that they allowed him to take the $2,000 course for free.

"We only had to attend the last seven weeks, where they do the tracking, criminal apprehension," Kappers said. "Xaro did such a good job that they even let him do the four-week narcotic training for free as well."

He said that police departments are using Malinois dogs more often, but they can be high-maintenance in their younger years.

The training can be intense, including training the dogs how to bite someone and keep the dog on task, such as locating drugs or people.

"Probably 50 percent of the dogs get washed out," Kappers said. "The training is difficult."

To keep the dogs on top of their game, K-9 units are certified each year through the United States Police K-9 Association. According to Kappers, there are two regions in the area.

"When we did our last certification, there were probably about 100 K-9 teams there and Xaro was the oldest," he said. "Most of the dogs last only 5-6 years."

Given the nature of his job, it's impressive that Xaro has only had one major accident.

About two years ago, Kappers said they were searching a semi-trailer for narcotics when Xaro fell seven feet. He suffered a pinched nerve in his neck and injured his back; he was off work for three weeks.

"We did find marijuana in the trailer though," Kappers said, giving Xaro a nod.

Probably his biggest asset has been doing building searches. Kappers said that when they get called to search a building for someone, a victim or a suspect, it is easier and faster to send Xaro in.

"Instead of us having to check each door one by one, Xaro can detect the scent of a human right away," he said.

Xaro goes to work with Kappers five days a week. Though they are ready for any incident, he said they tend to do more narcotic searches and school visits nowadays.

Xaro's been trained to search for marijuana, methamphetamines, heroin and cocaine. As far as visiting schools, Kappers said Xaro is kind of "an icon."

"When we bring him into the schools, the kids grab on to his ears, lean on him, but he's so mellow that he doesn't mind. Ten years ago, I would not have been able to take him there," he said.

He said that each work day Xaro jumps into the squad car and is excited about work. When he does decide to retire, Kappers said Xaro will join Jessie, their 10 1/2-year-old golden retriever/English setter, and their three cats.

Although Kappers and his wife just welcomed a new baby in their household, Xaro has never been a father.

"Kind of wish I didn't get him fixed," Kappers mused, when asked about continuing Xaro's lineage.

In the meantime, Xaro spends his days with Kappers at the police department, ready whenever called.

"It's great to go to work and have your buddy ride with you," Kappers said.

"I have no doubt that he would be as good protecting me now as when we started together," he said.