They say a dog is a man’s best friend.
For Cal Poly police Officer Stephanie Pipan, a well-trained German shepherd is not only a friend, but also her trusted partner who will use his extraordinary sense of smell to root out drugs and find missing hikers — and even apprehend suspects, if necessary.
For the first time in its history, Cal Poly’s University Police Department has two dogs working alongside officers conducting patrol duties. Both are purebred German shepherds rigorously trained and highly skilled to conduct police work.
They started their careers with the department this week.
Pipan’s dog, Xello, is a 95-pound 7-year-old with tall, pointy ears and a coat of brown and black fur. Xello loves to chomp on a fire hose and invites nearby humans to try to wrestle the toy out of his mouth.
The other dog is a 2-year-old named Brisan, who works alongside Officer Paul Davis.
Both dogs are from Germany, where purebred shepherds with good obedience are groomed and sent to the U.S. for service. Xello and Brisan respond to commands in German.
Given the proper command, they can sniff out drugs hidden inside walls or track down a lost hiker at night on a trail in the hills behind Cal Poly.
“It’s going to be a much better method of finding a hiker back there than us holding up our flashlights into the sky and trying to guide someone along on a cellphone,” said Brenda Trobaugh, Cal Poly’s deputy chief of police.
Xello already has five years of experience working with the Morro Bay Police Department, where Pipan worked before joining the UPD. The two were partners there.
Once, Xello tracked down a missing young girl in a park 2 miles from home.
“It wasn’t a place we would have thought to have looked carefully,” Pipan said. “But Xello went right to her, and it was a great relief to find her. These dogs have an incredibly powerful sense of smell.”
Pipan said Xello has even found her lost sunglasses in a field and rooted out heroin stashed in a wall that police might not have found otherwise.
95 pounds (weight of Xello)
The Friends of the Morro Bay Police Department initially led efforts to raise money for the dog, amounting to about $75,000.
“We knew in hiring her they came together as partners, and we liked the idea of bringing on Stephanie and the dog,” Hughes said.
Both officers take their dogs home and have close relationships with them, spending hours training, communicating and patrolling together. Pipan feeds Xello a strict diet of raw meat to keep him trim.
The dogs tend to stay in the police cars until needed. They’re required to follow search and seizure laws, but they are particularly useful when search warrants are served and they can identify contraband, Trobaugh said. They won’t be attending concerts or public events at Cal Poly for security purposes unless they’re called upon to respond to an incident.
“It’s kind of nice because when I’m at home or just talking to him in English, he doesn’t get confused and think he’s working,” Pipan said.
The UPD already has raised about $50,000 to outfit the officers’ vehicles for the dogs and to cover other costs, and will continue to fundraise to support their service. The dogs also will serve in educational roles for animal science and veterinary students, though specifics haven’t been determined.
“Xello and Brisan are great in the community,” Pipan said. “If kids want to pet them, and they ask, Xello is very comfortable with that.”
If you go: A public “Evening with K-9s” event will be held Oct. 22 at Thousand Hills Ranch in Pismo Beach, featuring a “wine and dine” format including raffles and K-9 demonstrations. The event is sponsored by the National Police Dog Foundation and its proceeds will be split between the Cal Poly, Pismo Beach and Atascadero K-9 programs. For additional information on the event, visit the Cal Poly University Police K-9 SLO Facebook page.