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Deputy’s best friend
“That’s a good boy,” Deputy Joe Hedstrom said to Ajax as the dog lazily stretched out across the floor.
The 2 1/2-year-old German Shepherd is the newest Kitsap County Sheriff’s Office (KCSO) recruit and Hedstrom’s first partner.
Ajax is the third tracking dog to join KCSO and began patrol duties May 9.
Hedstrom, a 1995 Olympic High School graduate, joined the sheriff’s office in 2003 and knew he wanted to become a K-9 handler. When Hedstrom was a boy, his neighbor worked for the Bremerton Police Department and owned a German Shepherd as a family pet. Hedstrom said he always thought the canine was a police dog and knew he wanted to be involved with K-9 work when he grew up.
“It’s something I’ve wanted to do since I was a kid,” Hedstrom said.
He voluntarily participated in KCSO’s K-9 training program for years. He donned the padded bite sleeve and assisted the K-9s with bite work. He also acted as a suspect, hiding in various places so the K-9s and handlers could track him.
Following an extensive application and interview process, Hedstrom was selected as the next KCSO K-9 handler in February. He then spent six weeks at Von der haus Gill Kennel & Police K-9 Academy in Wapakoneta, Ohio, training with his new partner.
“The things they really focus on are the obedience, tracking and bite work,” Hedstrom said of the training academy.
Hedstrom said he and his sergeant tested several dogs before deciding Ajax was the perfect fit for KCSO.
“I think we tested dogs for two days,” he said. “We pretty much knew the first day (Ajax) was the one we were going to take.”
Ajax became fully certified for patrol duties in early May and solved his first case May 18. Hedstrom and Ajax successfully tracked three robbery suspects on Kitsap Way in Bremerton at about 1 a.m. that day. The suspects reportedly robbed a nearby McDonald’s restaurant at gunpoint and fled the scene.
With Hedstrom shouting commands to Ajax, the pair found the first suspect.
“When we found the first guy it really took me off guard,” he said. “It’s fun watching (Ajax) do well.”
Hedstrom and Ajax then found the two other suspects inside a dumpster and recovered the money taken during the robbery.
Hedstrom said tracking dogs and handlers are often the first ones to find suspects, possibly armed with weapons. One of the McDonald’s robbery suspects had a gun cocked and loaded, but dropped it during the pursuit, Hedstrom said.
“I think (K-9) is one of the most dangerous jobs in the sheriff’s office,” he said.
Hedstrom and Ajax regularly patrol the roadways of Kitsap County and he said he likes having Ajax in the car with him.
“We listen up to the calls and if it sounds like it’s going to be a dog call we’ll go that way,” Hedstrom said. “There’s three of us (KCSO K-9 tracking handlers) so we’re all listening because we all want to get that track.”
KCSO handlers train with their K-9s once a week and must stay current on their certifications.
“We train weekly with the dogs, every Tuesday, at least four hours,” Hedstrom said. “If we can slip training in other days, we do.”
He added that Ajax, who lives with him and his family, will make a great partner for many years to come.
“It’s amazing. It’s fun. I think he’s a lot smarter than I am,” he said with a smile.