When Whitfield County Deputy Todd Thompson pulled over a car last December, he soon sensed this wasn’t going to be a routine traffic stop.
A few harrowing minutes later, Deputy Thompson had put two criminals behind bars and earned a newfound respect for his fellow K9 deputy, Eddy.
“I bet I said two sentences to the passenger, a male, before I immediately asked for backup because I knew something wasn’t right,” Deputy Thompson recalled. “Then the situation got pretty bad. The guy ended up running from me. I tased him and he jerked the prongs out of himself. He started swinging at me. By now, I’ve lost my handcuffs, I’ve lost one of my magazine pouches, I’m fighting the guy. I keep telling him, hey, if you don’t stop, I’m gonna pop this door and Eddy’s gonna come out here and he’s gonna bite you. Sure enough, I ended up having to pop the door, the first time I’d ever done that.”
Deputy Thompson managed to wrestle the man to the ground, where Eddy quickly bit him on the leg. Somehow, the suspect grabbed Eddy by his upper and lower jaws, however, and pulled the dog’s mouth off his leg, trying to break his jaws.
“Eddy yelped – you can hear it on the video – and screamed and backed out of the situation because he’d never been involved in anything like that,” Deputy Thompson said of his 3-year-old partner. “I had to encourage him, no, no, no, come help me – I’ve got my hands full with this guy.”
As the duo regained control of the situation, Deputy Thompson managed to subdue the suspect, who turned out to have drugs on him along with a handful of outstanding warrants.
Though it turned out successful, that stop proved to have a lasting mental effect on both officers, Deputy Thompson said.
“I noticed a change in Eddy,” Deputy Thompson said. “He didn’t eat for a couple of days after that happened, and every time even to this day I pull a car over and walk up to it, Eddy goes ballistic in his crate, especially when he sees me get somebody out of a vehicle. He thinks everybody is gonna fight us now, but then I think at a certain point, he finally realizes nothing’s gonna happen this time and he’ll get quiet and lay down. But he’s always there if I need him.”
Deputy Thompson says the traumatic situation has actually changed his relationship with Eddy for the better.
“I look at Eddy a little bit different now after that incident,” Deputy Thompson says. “I look at him as more of a partner, as opposed to just a dog, because he really helped me out of a bad situation. Without him there, things could have maybe been a little bit different because it was a pretty rough little ordeal.”
A winning combination
In the months since, that strengthened partnership has continued to pay dividends in other ways, with Thompson and Eddy joining forces to receive two impressive certifications, the first from the North American Police Work Dog Association and another from the United States Police Canine Association.
In fact, Deputy Thompson and Eddy earned overall “Top Dog” honors out of 30 competitors at a USPCA certification in Rome last spring, in the process securing an invitation to the prestigious USPCA nationals held in Huntsville, Ala., Sept. 17-21.
“This is where the big boys come out to play, where people that’s been doing this for a long time compete,” Deputy Thompson said of the national competition. “This is your cream of the crop top dogs … robot dogs” - or as they are sometimes called “pushbutton dogs” because they’re so perfect at what they do.
“I told my boss, look, I want two things out of the USPCA nationals,” Deputy Thompson said. “No. 1, I want to pass, and no. 2, I’d like to hit maybe somewhere in the middle of the pack – I think we’re good enough to do that. And we wound up doing both.”
The trip to nationals capped a year of hard work by Deputy Thompson and Eddy. When they weren’t striving to get better while training on the job and at home, they were busy working with other officers from Rome and Chattanooga who have allowed them to train with them regularly.
It takes that kind of extra effort to compete on the national level.
“There was very little room for error,” Deputy Thompson says. “All these dogs would do things so perfect that the judges would have to say, OK, you did it perfect, you did it perfect, you did it perfect, now who did it the fastest, and that’s how they would come up with who got first place in some categories.”
Just being there was a win.
Deputy Thompson and Eddy know firsthand how strict the national judges are. “We did better on some stuff than we’ve ever done before, like on obedience,” the deputy said. “But one time I threw my hand up to make him lay down, and he just sat there and looked at me. I was like, what are you doing, Eddy? So I threw my hand up again and he laid down, and then the rest of the obedience portion went flawless. But I missed all five points because he didn’t lay down the first time. If he would’ve laid down, we would’ve scored 118, which out of 30 dogs would have put us in fifth overall and we’d have got a medal.”
But Deputy Thompson got something else - a boost to his confidence while riding in an elevator with another man at the competition.
“It was a little intimidating in a way, but I was happy,” Deputy Thompson said. “Like I had one guy kinda sum it up to me. I told him, man, I can’t believe some of these guys – I can’t believe they’re scoring perfect on this stuff. But the guy looked at me and said, you ought to just be glad you’re here. He said just being here is saying something because this is the best of the best dogs in the nation showing up for this certification, you know?”
Once the competition was over, Deputy Thompson says it was the thrill of a lifetime to walk out on a football field in Huntsville with Eddy and all the other 85 dogs and their trainers as the public cheered them on.
“We all lined up at the motel, and a helicopter and Alabama state trooper escorted us to the football field,” Deputy Thompson said. “We drove through the streets, and there was a lot of the public lined up on certain portions – people coming out of their houses just taking pictures and clapping and waving at us. We all had our lights on while we followed a slow escort to the field, and the helicopter was overhead. It was really impressive. Then they drove us onto the football field, and the news media was there and people were clapping and cheering. We all drove out on the track, and then one at a time, they called our names, and the dog and the handler walked out on the field. The announcer said, ‘Now representing Whitfield County Sheriff’s Office and Dalton, Ga., Deputy Todd Thompson and K9 Eddy.’
“There was 85 of us total – you had bomb dogs, drug dogs, patrol dogs. All of us walked out on the field at one time, and I’ll never forget it. Drones were flying around, and the public was cheering and clapping, and the announcer said, ‘Folks, take one more last look. You’re looking at some of THE best dogs in the country.’
“And when he said that, it gave me cold chills because I thought in just two years, Eddy and I are here on this national stage. We’re not in the top five, we didn’t win this thing, we’re not even in the top 10, but in two years we came from a dog that didn’t know how to lay down to two years later, we’re on a national stage, we just got a national certification, we’re mingling with some of the best dogs in the country.”
The certifications from NAPWDA and USPCA, along with a certification from the trainer in Alabama where Eddy came from, aren’t just nice pieces of paper, though.
“The state of Georgia doesn’t even require us to hold a certification,” Deputy Thompson says, “but it looks better when you go to court to say my dog’s nationally certified and you can show them what all you have to do to be certified. It’s a very high standard.”
Looking ahead to 2019
Now that they’ve tasted what it’s like to compete with the nation’s best dogs, Deputy Thompson says their goal for 2019 is to earn another invitational to nationals and then hopefully place among the top 20 to earn a plaque.
In the meantime, though, the two crime fighters are just happy to be serving the public in Whitfield County.
“In the past two years, Eddy has done very well,” Deputy Thompson says. “He’s alerted on vehicles when we needed him to at the right times and gotten drugs off the street.”
He recalled two instances where Eddy proved successful on the job.
After a suspect bailed out of a car during a chase and fled on foot into the woods, Eddy was called to track the man, eventually alerting his handler he had found the criminal.
“I knew the guy was underneath the house by the way Eddy was barking and raising all kind of cane,” Deputy Thompson said. “I had two other deputies with me, and I gave out my warnings to the suspect to come out. After I didn’t hear any response, I sent Eddy under the house and he bit the guy on the arm, then dragged him out and we made the arrest.”
Then the next day or so, Deputy Thompson got into a car chase that spilled over into Gordon County. “The guy ended up throwing drugs out of the vehicle and passing people in a no-passing zone, driving at speeds in excess of 90 mph. I ended up having to use the pit maneuver to crash him out. When he spun out, he bailed on foot and tried to run through a cow pasture, and I sent Eddy after him. Eddy bit that guy on the arm, too.”
Sometimes, though, Eddy doesn’t even have to bite to get a suspect to do what he wants.
“When I told the sheriff (Scott Chitwood) about the guy who hid under the house,” Deputy Thompson said, “the sheriff’s like, I don’t understand it. If I’m hiding under a house and I hear an officer give me three warnings with a dog barking and he tells me he’s going to send the dog, I’m coming out immediately.”
Deputy Thompson says some people have phobias of snakes, heights, and dogs. “I think sometimes people would rather you pull a gun on them than bring a dog out,” he says.
“I told a suspect one time, did you not hear me give out warnings that if you didn’t identify yourself and come out, I was gonna send the dog? He said, yeah, I heard you, but I thought you was lying. I didn’t think you had a dog.”
Of course, sometimes even the imaginary threat of a dog is enough to stop a criminal. “A former deputy of ours saw a guy run into the woods one time and he gave out warnings to him that he was going to send the dog in after him if he didn’t come out,” Thompson says with a chuckle. “Well, another deputy started barking like a dog, and the guy ran out of the woods because he thought he was gonna get bit!”
Overall, Deputy Thompson says having Eddy has been worth all the hard work.
“There’s been some failures along the way, some disappointments, but mostly successes,” he says. “I think we set the bar real high of what I want and what my expectations are when we first got Eddy, and I think we’ve achieved everything that I wanted so far.”
He credits Eddy with making him a better lawman and for recharging his batteries after 16 years with the Sheriff’s Office.
“Eddy’s just changed my style of policing,” he said, “because now I’m patrolling the streets and I’m trying to do the best that I can do as cliché as it sounds – to put the bad guys in jail and get the drugs off the street. But that’s what I’m trying to do. That’s what I concentrate on now, more so than I ever have, and I enjoy it and I enjoying watching Eddy work.
“I’m curious to see where Eddy is gonna take me,” Deputy Thompson says, “or where I’m gonna take Eddy. It’s been a good partnership so far.”