Alaska State Troopers in Soldotna have a new partner ready to sniff out crime.
Since the middle of July, the Alaska State Trooper post on Kalifornsky Beach Road has become the new employer of 3-year-old Donna, who has joined the force as part of the canine unit.
Trooper Jason Woodruf said the station has worked with three dogs during his tenure in Soldotna, but Donna is the first he has personally worked with. Troopers that take command of a dog spend every hour of the day with them, including off-duty hours at home.
“Being a canine handler is such an advantage, because basically I have a partner right there,” Woodruff said. “It’s one of the greatest things, having such a great partner.”
Donna is a Belgian Malinois, a large and strong breed that holds similarities to the popular German shepherd and came to the Soldotna troopers post from Europe via a California kennel. Woodruff says it is unknown where in Europe Donna came from, but she was selected from a group of about a dozen dogs.
Dogs who work as police companions assist in drug and patrol units in myriad ways, so it is important they choose the right one for the job.
“Sometimes we work in remote areas and may have two others we’re working with, but not always,” Woodruff said. “So somebody can’t always be there with you all the time.
Woodruff said the qualities of the Belgian Malinois that make them attractive to put on a police force is their high drive and motivation levels, as well as their lack of susceptibility to health issues that can arise with breeds like German shepherds.
Donna’s breed mixed in with her behavior training from an early age have made for an ideal candidate for the job.
“The obedience is what’s remarkable about these dogs,” Woodruff said. “The only other thing I wish she could do is report writing.”
Woodruff, 36, got his badge in August 2007 in Fairbanks but has been stationed at the Soldotna post for eight of his 11 years on the job. Woodruff said during his childhood years, his father was a canine handler as a sheriff in Oregon and worked with a German shepherd for 12 years — an unusually long service period for canines.
“After seeing that, I knew that was something I always would want to do,” he said. “It’s one of the goals I’ve been trying to chase down.”
Donna is the first dog he has worked with on the job, and was certified June 14 of this year. Woodruff said police dogs like Donna are ready to obey any command he gives, and they never bark or attack without notice.
It also makes for a life different from those of “normal,” everyday pet canines. Woodruff said when he gets off work and heads home, he puts Donna in a fenced-in area to help her unwind and relax, allowing her to rest in isolation.
Eventually, she gets to interact and socialize on walks and at the dog park, and she kicks back with Woodruff and his wife, Sarah, who is a police officer stationed in Kenai.
Woodruff said he spends time during his off hours keeping Donna sharp, working with her on obedience commands and scent training.
“You can tell someone put an extreme amount of prime in her,” he said. “She came with a lot of prior training. We kind of joked that she already came trained up. She’s very obedient and came with all the bite work, already knew the game on scent detection work.”
Woodruff said Donna’s abilities allow her to bark and provide him with assistance in detaining a suspect, and she can also help apprehend a suspect who is not cooperating. He added she encounters situations like these on a daily basis.
So is he worried about Donna’s safety in potentially dangerous spots?
“It’s always in the back of my mind, but that’s something that you’re not even thinking about because of the amount of training,” he said. “Our academy was four months long; it was every single day. I’m so confident in the training with this dog that those are things you don’t think about. You certainly hope they don’t happen, God forbid, but I’m confident enough in the training and time and effort that we’ve put in.”