Rex, an eager and energetic German shepherd, was languishing in a Georgia animal shelter last year when a friend spotted the dog and called Marty Kemp, the wife of Gov. Brian Kemp and an avid animal lover.
Thursday, Marty Kemp was on hand at the governor’s mansion as three-year-old Rex and 11 other dogs got their badges as they joined the Georgia State Patrol and Georgia Capitol Police as K-9 officers.
“It is tail-wagging happiness in my heart, for sure,” said Marty Kemp, who made sure each dog got a box of treats after the ceremony.
She has also sponsored pet adoptions on the lawn of the governor’s mansion.
Rex, based in Tifton, has already assisted Trooper First Class Gustabo Deanda in 15 drug arrests and seizing three guns. Deanda said Rex lives at home with him and his family.
“He’s pretty much got his own bedroom,” Deanda said. “He’s a big baby at home.”
Rex and the other dogs barked, yelped and whined during the ceremony, more eager to play for each other than get their badges as they tugged at their handlers’ leashes.
“Everybody behave,” admonished Col. Chris Wright, Georgia’s public safety commissioner.
Support for police can be politicized these days, but backing for K-9s still crosses party lines. A new Georgia law raising the penalties for harming a police or search and rescue dogs, which took effect July 1, passed the state House 168-0 and passed the Senate 43-12.
That law honors Figo, a state police K-9 shot and killed while trying to catch a murder suspect in Clayton County in October 2022. Officers say they sent Figo into a car to make contact with Dexton Bolden, who they had forced off the road after a chase. Bolden shot the dog, leading to an exchange of gunfire between Bolden and officers that left Bolden dead.
There has been a recent increase in K-9s for state police agencies. In 2021, the Department of Public Safety had 18 dogs, and is projected to have 51 by 2024.
Dogs and their handlers trained to sniff for explosives or drugs go through six weeks of in-house training in Georgia, while those also trained to track and apprehend suspects go through 12 weeks of training provided by outside vendors. Lt. Chris Matthews, who oversees the program, says the state has sought to bring more training inside the agency as it builds up its program.
The state buys most dogs that it trains, Matthews said. But it’s also auditioning a handful of rescues, at Kemp’s behest, to see if they have what it takes to sniff for bombs or drugs or to track and chase down fleeing suspects. One of those is Rex.
“They went and checked him out, and he made the cut,” Kemp said. “And now look what he’s done.”
Kemp said her family owns two German shepherds, Rhett and Bailey, who remained confined upstairs at the governor’s mansion for the ceremony.
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