HOOKSETT — One month into their 14-week training regimen with the Boston Police K-9 Academy, Hooksett Police Officer Jordan McCluskey and his new K-9 partner Timber, an 18-month-old German shepherd, are well on their way to being one of the most recognizable patrols in town.
Purchased by the department on Sept. 6, Timber is the end result of a community donation drive announced last May that allowed the department to raise all of the funds needed to purchase, train and care for the dog over the next 10 years.
“The community outreach has just been unbelievable,” said McCluskey. “Tucker’s donated his Kevlar vest and Agway donates his food every month. All of the fencing for his kennel at my house was done by Blue Ribbon. We couldn’t have done this without the community.”
Between monetary contributions, gifts and grant funding, Chief Janet Bouchard says the department has received approximately $70,000 during the course of their K-9 fundraiser.
On Saturday morning, McCluskey gave a demonstration of some of the training that he and Timber have picked up during their last four weeks at the academy, including item retrieval, biting and following the path of a specific odor.
With training still in the early stages, McCluskey currently uses toys or food as an incentive to get Timber to perform a set of tasks.
“This is play to him, and I think this is still going to be play when he gets into the field,” said McCluskey. “We slowly incorporate other items like car keys, knives and cell phones. He knows that the item is not the reward, but instead that he’s rewarded whenever he finds and lays down on top of the item, whatever it may be.”
The pair spends Monday through Friday training with the academy in Boston, along with further instruction during off hours on nights and weekends.
As the animal’s designated handler, McCluskey carries a level of responsibility beyond that of his colleagues, including living full-time with Timber and driving a take home cruiser that’s been retrofitted with a temperature controlling fan, an aluminum alloy lined kennel in the backseat, and a door that can be remote opened from up to a quarter of a mile away.
McCluskey is quick to point out that the partnership between he and police dog is primarily a professional one.
“Timber definitely knows his purpose is to work,” said McCluskey. “He doesn’t sleep in a dog bed and he has no idea that there’s an upstairs in my house. You have to set those boundaries with him, otherwise he may get too relaxed, turn into a house pet and fail us in the field. I can’t have that for him, for me or for the other officers in the field.”
Despite the seriousness of the working relationship between the two, McCluskey doesn’t hesitate to talk about the close relationship that the two have managed to form.
“We’ve bonded so much in the short time that we’ve spent together,” he said. “We’re only hoping for the best moving forward because I see a lot of potential in him, so does everyone else.”
The bond is one that will continue long after Timber retires from the force, with McCluskey signed on to be the dog’s forever home after the average of 8 human years — or 56 dog years — expected for a police K-9 unit.
“Fifty-six years is quite a long time,” said McCluskey. “That’s retirement for police in most any state.”
After completing the rest of their handler training, McCluskey and Timber will spend six months working in the field together before they return to the academy for an additional eight weeks of narcotics training.
Before acquiring Timber, the department had been without a dog for the last 10 years and was relying on mutual aid from the units in Bow and Manchester. According to McCluskey, this arrangement sometimes resulted in time delays through no fault of the other departments.
He added that the department plans to return the favor and use Timber to provide mutual aid to surrounding communities.
McCluskey stated that working with Timber has been the fulfillment of a longtime career goal.
“I’ve always loved dogs,” he said. “I grew up with golden retrievers and I’ve always thought being a K-9 handler was something I wanted to do. We’re very fortunate that Chief Bouchard wanted to bring the program back.”