Highland News Leader

From zero to hero: Unruly German Shepherd from local shelter becomes bomb-sniffer

Bomb-sniffing German shepherd Hank in training

Lauren Marakas trains Hank, a German shepherd from the Highland Animal Shelter, to become a bomb-sniffing dog in Las Vegas. She notes that he is very receptive to the scent training and it is unusual for a dog to conduct his own searches this quic
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Lauren Marakas trains Hank, a German shepherd from the Highland Animal Shelter, to become a bomb-sniffing dog in Las Vegas. She notes that he is very receptive to the scent training and it is unusual for a dog to conduct his own searches this quic

Tank’s family didn’t want him anymore.

He was a 7-month-old, out-of-control, unruly German Shepherd. He was big. He didn’t seem to focus on the family. He spent most of his days in a kennel. They took him to their vet. The family had enough. They wanted Tank put to sleep.

“The vet knew that he was a purebred German Shepherd. He didn’t have the heart to do it,” said Mary Parker of Highland Animal Shelter. “He knew I have a thing for Shepherds, so he called me.”

Parker took him. And she made a call that would change everything for Tank.

Parker called Deb Walker, owner of LeBest Pet Resort and Spa in Edwardsville. Walker owned Sierra, a dog she trained to search for lost animals, but Sierra was 16 years old and getting ready for retirement.

Julia, Walker’s daughter, urged Walker, who was recovering from cancer, to get another dog. Walker agreed to look at Tank.

“When I evaluated Tank he seemed to be a very excitable, curious and energetic dog. He had difficulty focusing on one thing,but his energy and his curiosity completely won me over,” Walker said. “After adopting him, I wanted to change his name. Yes, he was a “Tank” but Hank seemed to fit him better.”

Walker began training Hank. He had trouble keeping his attention on the task at hand, but soon his personality began to develop. Walker noticed Hank’s mind worked faster than he could. He never seemed to turn off.

“Hank was a misunderstood dog and all he wanted was to work and please. As long as he had jobs throughout the day and every day, his behavior improved. But if we slacked off a day or two of work, his behaviors returned,” Walker said.

Walker believed that a family setting may not be best for Hank. He needed to work every day. She called a friend and asked about a job for Hank, doing security work.

There was a hospital that was interested. Walker agreed.

Hank went to Las Vegas for training. His long legs were too big for the plane, so Walker drove him.

Hank immediately took to the training. He blew away his trainer, Lauren Marakas, by putting his nose in the cans holding samples of chemicals and explosives — in his first session.

He learned bomb detection.

Now, Hank is a K-9 security officer for Dignity Health. It’s his job to work with two handlers to make sure there are no chemicals or explosives on the premises. At night, he goes home with the two trainers. One trainer has two Shepherds that live with her. The other has children and a rabbit.

“It’s the best of both worlds,” Walker said.

He's one of the family now, said handler Jim Lassiter, supervisor of public safety for Dignity Health.

During the day, Hank patrols three hospital campuses: one in Las Vegas and two in nearby Henderson.

After work, he goes home with Lassiter or Leah Mailman, another public safety supervisor. He plays ball. He hangs out with Lassiter’s kids or Mailman’s two dogs.

“In the morning, he’s ready for work though,” Lassiter said. “He’s always ready to work.”

Back in Edwardsville, Walker is learning to let go.

“It’s breaking my heart, but it really is the best thing for him. And he’s happy,” she said.

Parker and Walker are just glad Hank got a second chance.

“Hank is smart. He just needed a job to keep his mind busy. He knew how to manipulate people into paying attention to him,” Walker said. “Good or bad, he didn't care about how he behaved just as long as he got attention.

Hank is smart. He just needed a job to keep his mind busy.

Deb Walker, owner of LaBest Pet Resort and Spa

She added, “So many dogs are misunderstood by pet owners. My hope is that by making people aware of experiences like these, people will not just give up on their dog but will search out a behaviorist/trainer who can evaluate and give them a true reading of what that dog is all about.”

Parker agreed.

“He just needed to find his place. And he did,” Parker said. “What a great ending.”

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