Ann Arbor police dog retires after nine years of service as new K-9 takes to the road
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Even though there’s a new dog in town, the old dog is certainly not forgotten.
But instead of sniffing out bombs, it’s squirrels he’s after these days.
For nine years, Czar faithfully served his community and handler, Officer Jeff Robinson, as one of the Ann Arbor Police Department K-9 Unit’s dogs. Since his retirement last December, the now 10-year-old German shepherd has been living the good life at Robinson’s parents, where he’s got an ample back yard to romp in, plenty of toys to chew on and, yes, a slew of squirrels to chase.
The new dog in town is Jase, a rambunctious German shepherd who is still learning the ropes of road patrol. The 2-year-old dog is a narcotics detector, whereas Czar’s specialty was explosives. They are both trained in tracking and other patrolling duties.
The transition wasn’t easy, admits Robinson. Czar didn’t exactly want to go gentle into that good doggy night. Retirement at Robinson’s own home proved difficult for Czar, whose spirit still wanted to work each day, even if his body increasingly could not.
“I started noticing he was having a harder time just jumping up into the back of the (truck),” Robinson said. “When he would go up, he’d drag his feet. It was starting to hurt him to get up there because he just couldn’t make it. He lost power.”
Whenever Robinson put on his uniform for the day, Czar was still ready to go. When he couldn’t, he rebelled, chewing on things he ought not to, which meant Robinson had to keep the dog in a kennel all day.
Robinson’s mom, Marian Robinson, didn’t want to see Czar spend his retirement in a crate, so she offered to keep the shepherd at her house.
“I couldn’t bear the idea of him, in retirement, having to sit in a kennel,” she said. “We love him. We’ve fallen completely in love with this job.”
A long career
Czar, who will be 11 in August, is officially named Pfizer for the pharmaceutical company that bought him for the department. But everyone knows him by his nickname, Czar.
He came from a breeder in Sandusky, Ohio, and was drafted by a trainer at the Michigan State Police K-9 Academy.
“They chose him before they chose me,” Robinson said.
The two were soon matched up and began training together.
Czar is an explosives dog, which means he was trained to sniff out things like bombs. He is also a tracking dog who wasn’t afraid of taking down the bad guys when it came to that.
The training started when we was 13 months old. A few months later, he started on the Ann Arbor force with Robinson, who was no stranger to bomb-sniffing dogs, having served two tours of duty in Desert Storm as a handler of such canines.
All police dogs in the county are part of the Washtenaw County Metro K-9 Unit, which means Czar was on duty not just in Ann Arbor, but in Ypsilanti, Ypsilanti Township and Chelsea — essentially any law enforcement agency in the county that needed him.
Those who attended U-M football games over the years might recognize Robinson and Czar from their security work.
“Czar and I worked every football game from the start of his career,” Robinson said. “Everything that came in, we searched it.”
In 2008, when Barack Obama was in town campaigning, Czar got to sniff the bus of the future president.
“We worked that detail where we searched Obama’s bus, Biden’s bus inside and out,” Robinson said. “I was the only one on this bus. I got to walk in there and see everything. It was neat.”
Fortunately, throughout his career, Czar never found any explosives intentionally placed by a criminal meaning to do harm. Instead, Czar saw the most action working the road and tracking crooks.
Czar in action
The main function of any police dog is patrolling with his human partner.
“We worked the road,” Robinson said. “We were there for suspicious packages, bomb threats, but we got more tracking work than anything. He’s had several catches where he’s tracked people down.”
Robinson remembers a time Czar got a “street bite” at Arborland Mall about five years ago. A dog gets a street bite when he chases the suspect and takes him down by latching onto his arm.
“A (shoplifting suspect) that had assaulted a loss prevention (officer) ran into the woods over by U.S. 23,” Robinson remembered. “(The suspect) was in the woods when we tracked him down and found him hiding there. He took off running. We tracked right up on him, and he’s sitting there, (and) looks at us. I said, ‘Get down on the ground.’ He looks and sees the police dog and he takes off running.”
"Why would he run from Czar?" Robinson remembers asking himself.
“He got into the parking lot of Arborland and, once we got there, and I realized there was a clean shot, I sent (Czar) after the guy. He bit the guy on his arm and then held onto him until I got (there).”
The suspect was then taken into custody.
Robinson recalled another one of Czar’s adventures that occurred somewhere out in the county. This incident involved a man suspected of stealing a vehicle, then fleeing from police and climbing into a storage unit underneath a gazebo.
Czar tracked right up to a half-door underneath the gazebo, stopped, but then kept going. When they got into the yard, the dog stopped and gave Robinson a look that said, “Where’s he at?”
“We went back and checked on the gazebo,” Robinson said.
At that point the homeowner of the property popped his head out of a window and told them that there was a storage unit underneath the gazebo.
Melanie Maxwell | AnnArbor.com
Robinson started to yell that he was sending the dog in.
“Czar’s barking and I hear, ‘I’m coming out! I’m coming out!’” Robinson said. “He wanted no part of Czar.”
‘He's just that good’
It wasn’t easy for Czar to hang up his collar and badge.
For a time, Robinson tried bringing in Jase while Czar was still on duty. This didn’t work out so well.
Jase, who Marian Robinson lovingly describes as a “knucklehead,” is very spirited. Robinson has been training him on his own, as well as bringing in a trainer from Milan. The Frisbee-loving dog came from a breeder in Washtenaw County.
“He’s a real good tracking dog and real good in narcotics detection,” Robinson said about Jase, who is named for Jason Zogaib, an Ann Arbor officer who died of leukemia in 2009.
The two dogs butted heads immediately. Czar had a tendency to bully the younger one.
“He wants to be the Alpha dog,” Robinson said.
So, it was decided Czar would retire and stay at Marian Robinson’s, which wasn’t easy on the dog or Robinson.
“Having him retire and not being able to take him to work everyday, or seeing him not be able to jump up into the car anymore was tough,” Robinson said. “It’s extremely tough because I’ve had him for so long, and worked so closely with him. I spent more time with him than I did with my whole family.”
Czar’s talents and contributions to the department didn’t go unnoticed. His achievements include winning several first-place trophies in regional explosive-detecting events. Czar even got to attend a recent coffee hour for the nine two-legged officers that retired from the department this year.
“The Ann Arbor Police K-9 Unit has a great history with many dedicated officer handlers and their canine partners,” said John Seto, interim chief of the AAPD. “Czar was a wonderful addition to the unit and his many years of dedicated service will be missed. We are (also) very excited about our new K-9 Jase and welcome him to the team.”
Czar continues to adjust to life away from Robinson and police work.
“He loves it here, but Jeff is his first love,” Marian Robinson said. “Jeff will stop by occasionally. The first few times were tough to see, but I think (Czar) knows now this is where he lives. He’s got a good life. He gets walked everyday.”
Jeff knows his longtime partner has it good at his parents'. He also knows Czar could be back out on the road in a moment’s notice.
“I could put a leash on him and take him back to work today and he wouldn’t have skipped a beat,” Robinson said. “He’s just that good.”