PLEASANT VIEW -- Weber County Sheriff's Office Sgt. Chris Bitton and his partner have worked side by side for the past seven years. On Nov. 26, they will retire together.
Bitton will retire with more than 21 years of service, and his partner leaves with more than 49 years toward his pension if the retirement board credits him in dog years -- which would be only fair -- because Bitton's partner is Radar, a drug-sniffing dog.
This isn't Radar's first retirement. He was unofficially retired in July, because his teeth had ground down to nubs as a result of all his bite training. But like many a retiree, Radar wanted back on the job. Fortunately, his nose still worked.
"I wanted him to have some quality of life before he passes on, but sitting home was too much for him," said Bitton. "He had been so successful at finding narcotics that we brought him back into service several days later to sniff out narcotics until the day he officially retired.
"I've been a police dog handler since 1993," he said. "My first dog, Joker, I'm sad to say, was killed in an off-duty incident in 2004."
Shortly after that, Bitton traveled to Arizona with two other officers and selected Radar, a 2-year-old Belgian Malinois born in France. Together, Bitton and Radar went through three months of training in drug-detection and other tasks.
"Even after Radar was certified, we continued to train every week in order to stay fit and on top of our game," Bitton said.
Having a dog as a partner brings a sense of security, because the service calls are high priority and high stress.
"Knowing that with your dog on the call with you the suspect will be quickly apprehended is a big comfort, not only for me but other officers as well," Bitton said. Such hiding places as buildings, fields, trees, vehicles and houses are searched much more quickly when using a dog.
"It's comforting to know that if there is anybody inside the search area, the dog can find them and alert officers to where they are hiding," Bitton said. "When we are searching for a suspect who sees or hears the dog coming for him, most of them will start calling out to the officers so that the dog doesn't bite them.
"Like everyone else, criminals know that a police dog is trained to bite hard, and that by itself is very intimidating, let alone the dog's size and aggressive nature."
Police dogs not only work with their partners, they also live with them as part of an officer's family just like any other pet.
"When Radar's home, he's just a dog who knows he's home, plays with the kids, and enjoys his own time. But when I put my uniform on, he knows it's time to go to work, and he's ready to go."
"Radar cost $5,000, money that came from past drug-money seizures and not taxpayers." Bitton said it's a small price to pay for a partner that located 23 suspects and was involved in 230 state and federal narcotics cases resulting in hundreds of thousands of narcotics, weapons, money and property seizures.
While on duty, Radar has lost parts of his ears and tail while he was climbing under cars and getting them caught on pieces of sharp metal. He has injured his legs and paws on broken glass, ice and pieces of metal.
"At one time," Bitton said, "we thought he had a torn ACL, but he had just strained some muscles in his leg when he jumped over a fence and landed wrong."
Bitton said he has had a great career in law enforcement, especially working as a police dog handler as well as supervising the Weber County Sheriff's canine unit.
"Radar has had a very successful career, but it's time for the two of us to move on."