On certain days, the life of Barco the police dog is just like the life of the pooch next door.
He gets to nap, eat, exercise, catch another nap, maybe get a bath and chase balls in the backyard.
But on Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, it’s a different story. Wednesday is training day, and the other three days are work days. And this isn’t just any work. It’s serious police business that can put both Barco and his handler, Abilene Police Officer Tim Cox, in dangerous spots. In the blink of an eye, Barco can go from the friendly dog next door to a beast that even the toughest bad guys don’t want to tangle with.
“He can just hang out,” Cox said, “and then he can turn on that work switch and be a machine.”
The “machine” is the Barco that nobody wants to encounter. His bark may not be worse than his bite, but it’s vicious enough to make even a hardened criminal lay down his weapon.
“No, no, no, no, no, no, I’m coming out,” is a response that Cox has heard too many times to count. “There have been arrests we’ve made just because of his presence.”
Barco, a five-year-old Belgian Malinois, and Cox were paired in October 2019. They are one team of four in the K-9 Unit that patrol the streets of Abilene every day. A fifth dog also is a member of the crew. A typical night on the job for Barco and Cox involves five to ten traffic stops when they are called in to search for narcotics.
“That is the bulk of what we do,” Cox said.
When they get a call to a traffic stop, Barco’s job is over in a flash, and he gets to jump back into the backseat of Cox’s Chevy Tahoe, which has been retrofitted to suit his needs. Once Barco alerts to the drugs, Cox gives him a toy – no food treats – and his job is done. It takes only a matter of seconds for Barco to pick up the scent of the narcotics.
“He’s that alert,” Cox said. “He’s that fast.”
He’s so good at his job, in fact, that by May of this year, he had assisted his partner, Cox, with over 75 arrests. Those yielded 77 narcotics paraphernalia, 150 grams of methamphetamines, 100 grams of marijuana, 130 grams of cocaine, and multiple seizures of heroin and ecstasy. Add to that, multiple firearms and other weapons.
Those statistics come from routine nights for Cox and Barco, but not all nights are routine. On April 22, a Wednesday training day, Cox and Barco got called to assist with a manhunt that originated at Dyess Air Force Base. The call came at the end of a long day of training, but both Cox and Barco were up to the challenge. Barco was resting comfortably in his backseat compartment, his “happy place,” ready to call it a day when Cox hit the lights and siren. Suddenly, Barco was in machine mode.
“He’s eager to jump out and help,” Cox said, whenever lights and sirens come on.
That quick, professional response is the result of thousands of hours of repetitions. Those include the traditional “sit” and “heel” commands but go much farther. Barco also responds to “bite” and “release” commands.
“That’s one thing we tirelessly train at,”Cox said,because of the potential for disaster if Barco weren’t trained properly. Cox has years of training with K-9 dogs, first in the Air Force at Dyess and then with the Abilene Police Department. A native of Irving, Cox joined the military in 1999, working with and training dogs until 2005. After leaving the military, he continued to work as a military dog handler on contract and spent time in Iraq and Afghanistan. After joining the APD in 2017, Cox spent two years on patrol before being assigned to the K-9 Unit and partnered with Barco in October 2019.“The two of us connect really well,” he said.
That’s obvious watching them train in one of the city parks and riding with them on patrol. A typical work day for Barco begins in the late afternoon before the 7 p.m. shift. He listens as Cox gets dressed in his bedroom, putting on his gear, including a lightweight bullet proof vest. Both Cox and Barco have vests in the Tahoe that offer greater protection if needed. When Barco hears Cox putting on his boots, he’s pumped and ready to go.
“That’s when he really starts jumping around,” Cox said.
Barco knows from the type of collar that Cox puts on him whether he will be going to work, to train or just to take a ride. On a work day, Cox gets in the driver’s seat next to a mounted computer. He checks his radio and other equipment. Barco, wearing his K-9 collar, settles into his compartment in the back.
Typically, the two head to a park or softball field at the beginning of the shift so that Barco can get in some exercise and run through his commands. He trots alongside Cox, sitting or lying down when commanded, looking expectantly at Cox and wagging his trail. He is rewarded with getting to chase a black ball across the infield. A special treat is an oblong-shaped hard rubber toy that bounces erratically.
Then, the two head out for a night’s patrol. If they haven’t received a call to a specific location, they drive around town waiting for a call that they know will eventually come. At the end of the shift, whether strenuous or routine, the partners head home, arriving about 4 a.m.
“He’ll eat and he’ll crash,” Cox said.
After a 7 p.m. to 3:30 a.m. shift, the two sleep in until about 11 a.m. On training day, they get up earlier and get to the designated park about 9 a.m. At home, Barco is pretty much like any other family dog, except that only Cox feeds him and gives him commands. Barco interacts well with Cox’s wife, two daughters, ages 13 and 18, and their family dog, a corgi.
When he’s not on duty or anticipating training day, Barco can chill with the best of them. He likes lying on a rug in the garage watching Cox work out and maybe getting in a little snooze. He enjoys just hanging out with the family or roaming the backyard.
“At home, as much as possible, I let him be a dog,” Cox said. “He’s really good at having the best of both worlds.”