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BOLIVIA—While chasing a slobbery, red Kong toy thrown by his handler, Hanno suddenly becomes distracted. The wind shifts, and as it does, it brings with it a familiar scent—drugs.
Hanno is no longer concerned with playing with his favorite toy; the German shepherd has a job to do.
The Brunswick County Sheriff’s Office K-9 doesn’t wait for his handler, Cpl. Rich Roman, to tell him what to do. The seasoned veteran immediately encircles an SUV, where Roman has hidden a bag or marijuana to show how Hanno trails a scent.
As Roman expects, Hanno finds the contraband within seconds, and then waits patiently for his praise and the return of his Kong; to which Roman happily obliges.
Roman joined the Brunswick County Sheriff’s Office in 2001, and began working in the K-9 Unit with Hanno in September 2002.
Six years and hundreds of cases later, Roman and Hanno have garnered various awards for their work together.
“We’ve had a good six years,” Roman said.
When Hanno was first assigned to Roman, he had already been working with another handler for about a year.
“He was ready when I got him,” Roman said. “I wasn’t ready.”
But eventually, after about a year working together, Roman said he and his K-9 finally “meshed.”
Today, Roman knows almost everything about Hanno and his behavior. He knows when Hanno picks up a scent on a trail by the slightest change in his posture or demeanor.
As Roman describes Hanno’s skill and precision while tracking, he sounds more like a proud parent than a dog handler. But at the end of the day, Roman says he has to remind himself Hanno is “a 70-pound extension of my arm.”
Until, that is, when Hanno retires in July and trades a life of tracking drugs for his new role as the Roman family “lap dog,” Roman said.
A few years ago, Roman said he was averaging 15 to 16 felony drug arrests per month, and his personal record is 26 felony drug arrests in one month.
Hanno has found pounds of marijuana, ounces of cocaine and practically everything in between.
Roman said he has seen suspects hide drugs in their air conditioning vents, bed liners of pick-up trucks, in a dome light in their vehicles, in an attempt to evade law enforcement officers. But Hanno is thorough, Roman says, and smells every inch of vehicle for that scent he seeks.
If it’s there, Hanno will find it, he says, at which point Roman will jump up and down praising Hanno for his work.
“You can’t be afraid to look like a fool,” Roman says, adding that praise is what Hanno and all dogs seek from their handlers.
One hot and muggy night last August, Roman and Hanno were on patrol when they received a call about an armed burglary in Winnabow. The suspects robbed the victim at gunpoint and then stole the victim’s car.
One of the suspects took off in a field, where some of his clothes had been found.
Roman let Hanno smell a T-shirt and then let him go to work. Hanno immediately began tracking, and quickly retrieved money the suspect had buried in the field and continued after the suspect. Almost three hours later and after covering more than 2.5 miles, Hanno found the suspect, who confessed to the burglary and identified his two accomplices.
All three suspects were charged with four other home invasions, Roman said.
Deputies also found 937 grams of marijuana, 75 ecstasy tablets, one gram of cocaine and $1,800.
For this case, Roman earned a national award that has never before been awarded to a North or South Carolina patrol officer.
Roman was awarded the National Patrol Case of the Quarter by the U.S. Police Canine Association for the third quarter of 2007.
In 2004, he earned the agency’s case of the quarter for North and South Carolina, and last year, Roman was named Brunswick County Sheriff’s Office officer of the year.
When Hanno retires this summer, Roman will be assigned a new K-9, and Hanno will go back to playing with his Kong.
Until the wind shifts, and he picks up a scent.