Remarkable K-9; 'Wess always gets his man in Portsmouth - by Joson Claffey Aug. 16, 2009
PORTSMOUTH — The suspects were almost home free.
It was pitch-black in the middle of the night, and the three men were in dense, inaccessible woods behind Lafayette Plaza.
They fled there when they heard police sirens as they tried to rob a convenience store on Islington Street in late July.
Pursuing officers couldn't see two feet in front of them. They had no idea how many suspects they were dealing with,
or which direction they took off in. It looked as if the suspects would get away. And on any other night, they would
have — had it not been for one of the most feared members of the Portsmouth Police Department: a 5-year-old,
72-pound, German-born athlete who could break the Olympic record in the 100-yard dash if he was allowed to compete.
Meet Wess the Portsmouth police dog.
When K-9 Officer Scott Pearl pulled up to the crime scene in his cruiser that night with Wess, the dog quickly sprung into action.
He immediately picked up the suspects' scent, leading Pearl and Officer Eric Bentz on a dead sprint through
a half-mile of thick weeds, heavy branches, and deep mud. Wess caught the first suspect hiding behind a tree, then went
after the second suspect, who was trying to swim across a saltwater creek. Wess leaped in, swam 25 yards, and
nabbed the man before he could reach the other side. With both men in handcuffs, Wess ran down the last suspect,
hiding 500 yards away in a swamp in chest-high water. The man had no chance — Wess homed in on him like a heat-seeking missile.
"It was unbelievable," Pearl said. "Without him, we wouldn't have caught a single one."
In a recent two-and-a-half week span, Wess has been responsible for five captures, including the three in the woods on July 23.
On Aug. 8, he ran down a man who smashed a car window in a Port City hotel parking lot and made off with some cash.
Then on Aug. 12, he sniffed out a man accused of stealing about $350 from a convenience store in Somersworth.
He led officers right to the suspect's front door. It's been the best streak of Wess' career.
"We're on a good run," said Pearl, who has handled the dog for the last three years.
Wess has won a slew of awards in local police K-9 competitions and will compete soon in the United States Police
Canine Assocation national competition. He runs a 100-yard dash in 7 seconds; the current Olympic record by
a human is 9.69 seconds. A German Shepherd, Wess was born on June 14, 2004, in the Black Forest region of Germany.
He came to the department in December 2006 — and hasn't looked back. The dog's very first track resulted in an arrest.
Pearl was called to Dover for reports of a man who was driving drunk and ditched his car when officers attempted
to pull him over. The man ran through the back yard of a home and into dense woods. "The thickest stuff you can
imagine," Pearl said. That didn't stop Wess, who cut through the brush and found the man on the ground in the fetal position.
"He does what he has to do to get the job done," Pearl said.
The officer and the dog have a close relationship. Pearl, 43, has been a member of the Portsmouth Police Department
for the last 18 years, and said he always wanted to be a K-9 officer. He grew up around dogs, training
his yellow Labrador, Ranger, for duck hunting.
Wess is part of the family at Pearl's Newfields home. He gets along well with Pearl's three children,
the family cat, Sasha, and the chickens and ducks in the barn outside. One of Pearl's children, Keegan, 20,
is even thinking about becoming a K-9 officer himself. And Pearl's wife, Darlene, is on the board of directors
of the Working Dog Foundation at Pease, a nonprofit organization that provides training for over 30 K-9 teams from New England.
While Wess is definitely not a "lap dog," Pearl said, he knows how to kick back and relax after long nights of chasing bad guys.
"He has a nice switch," Pearl said. "He knows when it's time to work and when it's time to enjoy the day."
Playtime usually consists of following around Sasha and chewing through outdoor water hoses.
"I can't tell you how many hoses I've had to replace," he said.
He also can't say how many hours he's trained with Wess, suffice to say that it's in the thousands. The training
is why Wess can complete such difficult tracks, like the one in July.
Portsmouth Police Chief David "Lou" Ferland called it a "doctorate-level" track because of the difficult terrain and
the fact that officers didn't know which direction the suspects were traveling in. "It was remarkable," Ferland said.
For his efforts, Wess was given a special treat by Pearl — Velveeta cheese on top of his regular dog food, as well as steak.
"I generally don't give him people food because I'll pay for it later," Pearl joked.
The officer uses the canine as much as he can in his police work, from drug investigations to building searches to
serving warrants. Pearl said he can't put a number on the amount of arrests Wess has been responsible for
because he's contributed to so many, in Portsmouth as well as surrounding cities and towns.
Ferland, who was part of a canine unit for nearly 20 years, said Wess has not only gotten suspects off the street
but also saved countless man hours in investigation work had they escaped.
"That comes from thousands of hours of committed time and dedication from Scott," Ferland said.
"We probably never would've caught these people if not for the dog team."