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Atsugi military working dog Boetzo, affectionately called "Bo," sniffs out hidden explosives during a Sept. 25th practice at Atsugi.
Atsugi military working dog Boetzo, affectionately called "Bo," sniffs out hidden explosives during a Sept. 25th practice at Atsugi. (Juliana Gittler / S&S)
Atsugi military working dog Boetzo, affectionately called "Bo," sniffs out hidden explosives during a Sept. 25th practice at Atsugi.
Atsugi military working dog Boetzo, affectionately called "Bo," sniffs out hidden explosives during a Sept. 25th practice at Atsugi. (Juliana Gittler / S&S)
Bo practices capturing suspects during a Sept. 25 exercise at Atsugi Naval Air Facility, Japan. Petty Officer 1st Class Eric Orteza, a master-at-arms with the K9 unit, wasn't harmed.
Bo practices capturing suspects during a Sept. 25 exercise at Atsugi Naval Air Facility, Japan. Petty Officer 1st Class Eric Orteza, a master-at-arms with the K9 unit, wasn't harmed. (Juliana Gittler / S&S)

ATSUGI NAVAL BASE, Japan — Boetzo’s big pink tongue belies a ferocity that could stop an unruly drunk with a swift chomp, or a nose so sensitive it could sniff out an explosive.

Boetzo and the handful of military police dogs in Atsugi’s Security K-9 division have incredible pedigrees, training and dedicated handlers. Some are trained to find explosives; others, drugs. They also can do routine patrol duties such as stopping a suspect in his tracks with a mean bite.

At a handler’s request, the dogs can chase, stop, guard and escort a suspect using a bite or their considerable body strength. They don’t attack; it’s much more sophisticated than that.

The dogs use controlled force, unlike a shot from a gun, which can’t be controlled.

They also serve as a peaceful deterrent.

“If there’s a fight we bring in a dog,” said Petty Officer 1st Class Eric Orteza, a handler with Atsugi’s Security K-9 division. One bark, he said, can quell a barroom brawl.

Atsugi’s canines, like most military dogs, are born in Germany and Belgium and trained at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas. They spend six weeks in patrol training followed by at least as long in specialized training.

The dogs use passive responses — they simply sit — unlike civilian working dogs that react in some way to gain their handlers’ attention.

“You don’t want an explosives dog pawing explosives,” explained Petty Officer 1st Class Frank Roberts, a master at arms.

The dogs work for a reward, either a toy or a treat from their handlers. Dogs and handlers form a close bond, even if the dogs get a little rambunctious sometimes.

“We work as a team,” said Petty Officer 3rd Class Elizabeth Moschetti, who pairs with Boetzo, affectionately called “Bo.” “Most of the time he knows when I’m mad. I just point at him and he puts his ears back.”

The dogs’ handlers are always easy to spot on base.

“You go home smelling like a dog,” said Petty Officer 3rd Class Jennifer Harvey, also a master at arms with the K-9 division.

Other clues: Dog hair on uniforms and muddy boots from the training course.

The dogs are pedigreed German shepherds and Belgium Malanois. Once trained, they’re worth more than $30,000, trainers said.

The dogs never play together but do have fun with their handlers, the handlers said.

In the past, dogs too old for work were put to sleep. Now they can be adopted by servicemembers, handlers said. One of Atsugi’s dogs — Rex — awaits his new retirement home.

The handlers, in one sense, may have it tougher.

They form a close bond with the dogs but when it’s time for a new duty station, they say goodbye.

“Suddenly you get transferred and you can’t take the dog with you,” Orteza said. “After three years you get used to a dog.”

The dogs are strong, highly trained law enforcers, but they still appreciate a scratch behind the ears.

And they might knock a few things off an office desk with an excited tail.

Still, the handlers say, they feel fortunate to have a job with animals.

“Sometimes I wish I had someone to talk to” on patrols, Moschetti said, “but it’s still the best job in the Navy.”

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