The first time California Highway Patrol Officer Matt Fowles met his partner it left quite an impression. Literally. He bit him.
Of course, that was exactly what K9 Pakito, a Belgian Malinois, was supposed to do.
Fowles had traveled to the K9 facility to help with the decoy training and remembers quite clearly his first encounter with Pakito.
“I was in the suit and taking bite after bite,” Fowles recounted. “I remember when Pakito came up for his turn because he was bigger and harder biting that any of the other dogs in the group.”
The auspicious first meeting would not set the tone for the dog and his handler. Over the four years that they have been partnered together they have done remarkable work in making the Central Valley a safer place, most notably in the areas of drug trafficking.
Pakito is trained to detect four drug odors — marijuana, cocaine, methamphetamine, and heroin. Together the duo has recorded approximately 25 narcotic seizures, which includes 228 pounds of cocaine, nine and a half liters of methamphetamine dissolved in solution, 272 pounds of crystal methamphetamine, 337 pounds of marijuana, and eight and a half pounds of heroin.
“Drug searches are his bread and butter and he absolutely loves doing them,” Fowles said. “His tail gets to wagging and he’s really eager to get out there. For him, it’s all about pleasing me and he knows that if he does that he is going to get his favorite toy.”
The favorite toy in question is a Kong cone attached to a short rope that in the mind of Pakito is the end all be all of all existence, according to Fowles.
Pakito’s other specialty is suspect apprehension, of which he has assisted in the arrest of 113 suspects.
Becoming a K9 handler within the CHP is not as simple as expressing an interest in the position. Throughout the entire state organization there are only 54 officers who are selected to be handlers. It was Fowles’ ambition to be one of those select few, and he knew he was going to have to prove that he was worth it.
“You have to show that you have the right work ethic and put in a lot of effort,” Fowles said. “They’re going to invest a $10,000 tool into your care, so they don’t want it to go to waste.”
Fowles joined the CHP in 2006 and has been stationed out of the Modesto office. As a K9 handler his territory stretches far and wide along the highways running north and south and east and west.
For K9 handlers the partnership does not end when the shift is over. Pakito is a part of Fowles’ family and when duty is done, he becomes an entirely different dog.
“He’s basically the biggest lap dog you’ve ever seen,” Fowles said. “He plays in his pool and would play fetch all day if he could. He’s like a friendly, gigantic teddy bear at home.”
For this partnership the term “man’s best friend” has never rang truer and is one that Fowles is very grateful to have.
“I love everything about our partnership,” Fowles said. “I know that he’ll be out there and have my back without a second thought.”