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Farewell Salute - July 4th 2015

Tracer FarewellFarewell Salute

Monroe County Sheriff's Office Drug Dog Retires
BY Michael Quirk Key West Citizen

Tracer, a recently retired Monroe County Sheriff’s Office deputy, is spending her time off like many fellow retirees in the Florida Keys: enjoying the beautiful weather, taking routine cat naps, and catching up on her favorite hobbies.

What sets her apart from other retirees is that her hobbies include chasing cats and playing fetch with her favorite toy.

The 11-year-old Belgian Malinois is enjoying the good life these days after being relieved of her duties following eight years with the Sheriff’s Office. Tracer came to Monroe County at age 3 after spending two years training at Canine Extreme in Ocala. Since then, she has been responsible for the seizure of over $6 million worth of drugs, money and property.

“Her dad was a drug sniffing dog as well and when they train the dogs, they weed out the ones that are scared of loud noises or don’t want to do it,” said her handler of four years, Danielle Malone. “They look for dogs that are toy driven rather than food driven.”

That lack of a food drive helped police nab a suspect on a routine traffic stop. One of Malone’s fellow deputies made a traffic stop and radioed for Tracer, who would ride in the car with Malone. When Tracer started sniffing through the car, she alerted the officers to a McDonalds bag. Underneath a heap of french fries and chicken nuggets was a bag of marijuana.

In addition to assisting on traffic stops, Tracer also helped with customs at the airport and with cruise ships. She became a mainstay at Stanley Switlik Elementary School in Marathon.

“The kids read a book about a police offier and their dog, and when they finish reading it, Tracer and I stop by the school,” Malone said. “All the kids would come up and pet her and she was a hit there.”

Elementary schools aren’t the only place Tracer was welcomed with open arms. Each time she would get to the sheriff’s office, she was met with an array of friendly greetings. In retirement, some of the officers request Tracer’s presence when Malone meets with them for lunch or at the station.

At the office’s quarterly ceremony, Tracer was given a retirement ceremony and honored for her service. She received a shadow box with a folded flag, a badge, a picture of her and her handler, and a certificate of appreciation.

Tracer will now live out her life at her handler’s house on Big Pine that she will share with a pair of feline friends. Malone has been on health leave with an uncertain timetable on when she will be healthy enough to return, and says that extra time has helped her make Tracer’s transition from the force to full-time stay-at-home dog easier.

“She’s in great shape and has a ridiculous amount of energy,” Malone said. “People don’t believe me when I tell them she’s 11.”

A struggle that many retired work dogs face is keeping busy after spending their lives with a singular purpose. Tracer has traded in bags of cocaine and methamphetamine for her favorite toy, a green ball with a rope handle, that Malone hides and allows the dog to find to keep her active. The 65-pound shepherd also enjoys chasing Malone’s two cats around the house and goes out to St. Peters Church on Big Pine Key three times per day.

“We’ll go out there three times each day but she would rather we do it six or seven times,” she said. “She even plays with the deer there. They’ll run out of the woods and chase after the ball, too.”

Malone said that one time they got to the park and saw a deer with its ear caught in a net and the two helped it fight free. The handler helped free the deer’s ear while Tracer herded the deer to keep it in place.

The sheriff’s office is debating whether or not to purchase another drug dog in November, one that would also be the responsibility of Malone. Still, it’s the veteran canine’s presence that remains on Malone’s mind.

“It’ll be lonely when I get back to work,” she said. “I know it sounds crazy, but I would talk to her in the car, so it’ll definitely be lonely without her.”