Thanks to anonymous giver, Danville has a police dog

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Barked: Sun Apr 9, '06 8:06pm PST 
She's lean, mean and understands several languages. Crooks blanch when they see Donna, the newest crime-fighter for Danville police.

She'll dispatch a fleeing suspect with alacrity, and doesn't mind the swing shift.

Donna is the new canine law enforcer for the Danville department. A Belgian Malinois (MAL-in-wah), Donna answers commands in Dutch, and German, and some in Czech. The Malinois is similar to a German Shepherd but smaller in stature. Typical females weigh about 60 pounds; Donna weighs 69.

Such dogs are well-suited for police work. They do best when they have a background of strict training a purpose of the moment.

"She is happiest when she is working, pulling hard on the leash, focused," said her handler, police Officer Mike Ireland.

And, according to the American Kennel Club, the Malinois is highly intelligent.

Formally shown as a separate breed since 1959, the Malinois is a "protection" breed that will fiercely defend its home and master, has high energy and is extremely fast and agile.

An anonymous donor approached the police department "wanting to do something for the community," police Chief Chris Wenzel said. The donor paid the $8,000 to obtain the valuable dog from Holland, where she had three years of special training. The donor has also committed to paying for Donna's care for four years, at a total cost of about $63,000, Wenzel said. That includes the cost of a specially-equipped police car whose doors can be opened remotely by the officer to let the dog out.

Donna has been "on the street" for four weeks, and is still finishing up her schooling to also become a drug-sniffing dog. She also will be used to search for lost or missing people, illegal contraband, articles for evidence and as a community relations ambassador.

Donna goes home with Ireland every night, where she sleeps in a kennel. She is still getting acquainted with Ireland's family, which includes two young children. Officer and dog will be fairly inseparable for the next four years, the usual length of a police canine's working career.

"It's a huge commitment. The dog becomes part of the officer's life," Wenzel said.

While Ireland is on vacation, Donna will likely be off duty and staying at Wenzel's house. Wenzel is a dog fancier who has raised Rottweilers.

A quick study, Donna has already helped apprehend a fleeing suspect without ever touching him.

"You tell a suspect to lie down and stop running or you'll let the dog loose on him," Ireland said. "Most people don't want to get bitten and will comply."

Donna also traced the scent off some handle bars of a stolen bicycle to a house about a block away ,where the thief was. He admitted to the crime, Ireland said.

In training classes with Ireland, Donna is formidable, her handler said. In one exercise an instructor playing a bad guy fired blanks in the dog's face as she lunged toward him; she was unfazed and unstoppable, Ireland said.

"It's the intense training they get in Europe. She is protective of me and will help me from getting attacked," said Ireland, who has been with Danville police for four years.

Donna was almost edged out by Bodie, a German shepherd whom Wenzel first chose to become Danville's new canine unit. After a short time, it was apparent Bodie was not a good fit for Ireland or his family, and the dog was returned to Southern California, where Donna was then chosen.

Danville has not had the budget for several years for a police dog. Wenzel said the "timing was right" when the donor stepped forth to fill a need for the department.

Donna and Ireland are still getting to know each other's likes and dislikes.

"Donna hates rain," Ireland said, "and her favorite toy is a racquetball."

When she is at the police department, Ireland lets up on the discipline. Donna rolls on her back, chomps on her leash and flinches when a photographer takes her picture. Staffers make a fuss over her.

"Now who's going to clean up this dog hair on the carpet?" Wenzel asks with a chuckle.