Man’s best friend indeed! These dogs work with their humans with a higher calling in mind.

Corporal Todd Tucker jumped at the chance to join the Douglas County Sheriff’s K-9 unit in 2012, in part because he liked the idea of having a dog for his partner. And what a partnership it’s been. Zoos, an 8-year-old German Shepherd/Belgian Malinois mix, has faithfully been by Corporal Tucker’s side ever since, aiding in searches for suspects, delighting children at meet-and-greets, and providing companionship during the long overnight shifts.

“He’s the best partner I’ve ever had,” Corporal Tucker says.  

He and Zoos are one of six K-9 units for Douglas County, and all are trained for the same work, mainly to find illegal narcotics, find missing persons and apprehend suspects. Corporal Tucker also leads the K-9 unit training. All units train together once a week for about nine hours, where they recreate calls and try to perfect problems that have come up.

Zoos lives in a kennel in Corporal Tucker’s Highlands Ranch garage. When Zoos first came home, Corporal Tucker’s young children made him a ‘welcome’ note, writing ‘Zoos’ instead of ‘Zeus,’ his given name. The spelling stuck. However, Zoos is not a family pet.

“When things start to get bad they call for K-9. Zoos’ job is to die for a police officer. If he dies for an officer then he did his job,” Corporal Tucker says.

But Zoos has a goofy side, Corporal Tucker says, and when he’s not working he likes to be the life of the party. And he loves playing with balls and in water. Zoos is likely to retire in the next few months, which means he’ll have more time for playing. And he’ll still be by Corporal Tucker’s side.

“He’ll be the pet I’ve always wanted,” he says. “He’s my best friend.”

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It just might be the best career change ever. Bruno, a 16-month-old terrier mix, was a runaway who wound up in a New Mexico shelter. Freedom Service Dogs of America, a Colorado-based organization that transforms shelter dogs into service dogs, chose him for its program. However, Bruno’s distractibility (chasing rabbits is too fun!) precluded him from training and he was selected for yet another career—full-time pet. Adopted by Castle Rock residents Linda and Frank Candella in April, he’s been bringing joy to their lives ever since.

“He has a face you just want to squeeze,” Linda says. “He gets to your heart right away.”

The Candellas have owned dogs and cats before, but Bruno is their first pet in about 15 years, and their first puppy. They say Bruno has brought an undeniable energy to their home. He sleeps with them and wakes them up each morning (no more alarm clocks, says Frank), and his rambunctiousness keeps them moving. Frank and Bruno walk a mile and a half each morning, and again each evening.

“I had to lose a few pounds to keep up with him,” Frank says with a laugh. Bruno loves to meet other dogs, though he takes a particular liking to bigger dogs and especially loves running with them. “It’s beautiful to watch him run,” Frank says.

Bruno’s also a snuggler, which Linda says is her favorite part so far.

Though Linda and Frank don’t know Bruno’s full history, they believe that building trust is an important step in their relationship, and they’ve made a lot of headway in a short time. Slowly Bruno is learning that he now has a permanent home, and a car ride doesn’t mean getting left behind. In the future they hope to take road trips and experience even more new adventures together.

“He’s enhanced our lives and made things more fun,” Frank says.

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Think about it. Would you bring an adorable, oh-so-cute 8-week-old puppy into your home, knowing that you are responsible for raising it to become a guide dog, and also knowing that about a year later you’ll have to say goodbye so the pup can join a forever home? This is exactly what Highlands Ranch residents Stephanie Stanley and her daughter, Hannah, did.

Hannah, 18, had approached her mom with the idea to work with service dogs for her senior project. They reached out to Guide Dogs for the Blind, planning to be ‘puppy sitters,’ volunteers who temporarily care for a puppy when a need arises. However, due to a shortage of homes, they instead became ‘puppy raisers,’ volunteers who are responsible for teaching puppies good manners and basic obedience until the puppy is old enough to complete formal training to be a guide dog.

Modelo, a black lab, joined their family in September 2017. First up was potty training (Hannah bore the brunt of this tiring process) and teaching Modelo good kennel behavior. In addition to basic obedience, Stephanie and Hannah are also responsible for exposing him to a variety of situations and environments, including walking on busy streets and riding public transportation. They meet with a representative from Guide Dogs for the Blind periodically so his progress can be documented.  

“It’s such a sense of accomplishment when Modelo learns how to do something,” Stephanie says.

Though Modelo will leave their family in a few months to complete his formal training, Stephanie knows they will have a forever bond. Most puppy raisers stay in touch with the new owner once they are placed.

“We love him, but we know he’s leaving for a better purpose. We’ve raised him so that he can leave and move forward in his life,” Stephanie says. “It’s not different from what you want for your kids.”