Officer's Best Friend Is His Dog Lady Godiva Rides Shotgun With County Policeman

November 13, 1990|By Kris Antonelli | Kris Antonelli,Staff writer

County police Officer Bill Rothenbecker's partner has deep brown eyes, long shiny chocolate-colored hair and a talent for sniffing out the goods. The pair spends 24 hours a day together, sharing home and hearth as well as a police cruiser.

"I've had Lady Godiva since about the beginning of October," the 35-year-old officer says. "She's half-Labrador retriever and half-Chesapeake Bay retriever."

Living with and training police dogs has been the focus of Rothenbecker's 12-year career in the department. Ten of those years have been spent in the Special Operations Section as a canine trainer and a member of the Quick Response Team, or SWAT.

"I love my job and the challenge of working with dogs or any other kind of challenge," he says.

Rothenbecker and Lady Godiva -- she received her name from a previous owner -- have spent the last two weeks at the Baltimore County Police Department's canine training facility, where she is learning the fine art of sniffing out illegal drugs.

"The dog is not looking for the drugs," Rothenbecker explains. "She is looking for the odor."

Lady Godiva is the only female drug sniffer of the Anne Arundel County Police Department's 10 dogs. Six are used to search for suspects or missing people, and the other four search out drugs or explosives.

Training Lady Godiva hinges on her sense of smell, Rothenbecker says.

To teach the dog the smell of narcotics, he shows Lady Godiva the drugs along with a tennis ball. She loves to play with the ball and begins to associate finding the drugs with being allowed to play with the tennis ball.

"You try to make it a game," Rothenbecker says. "Once they find the drugs, they can play with the ball."

The officer's love of dogs goes back to his childhood in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., where he and his family "always had dogs."

His first police dog was Prince, a German shepherd. Then there was the black Labrador retriever named Kahula, or "Louie."

"He was crazy. He got the name 'Screwy-Louie': He could play with the ball all day," Rothenbecker says.

Kahula, trained to find explosives, was 12 in September when she had to be put to sleep after having seizures. At about the same time, the Rothenbecker family's 15-year-old Yorkie, Magee, had to be put to sleep.

"It's been a hard couple of months for dogs," Rothenbecker says. "After Kahula and Magee, we thought we didn't want to have any more dogs."

But then Baltimore County police asked Rothenbecker to take Lady Godiva.

"When I saw her, I just fell in love with her," he says. "She really has become part of the family."

Besides his canine activities, Rothenbecker teaches Quick Response Team officers how to make entries into homes when serving drug search warrants.

As a member of the team himself, Rothenbecker is often called out at at strange hours and is expected to confront life-threatening situations.

"To me the most important thing is safety and to act as team," he says.

"Every time you do it, you're scared -- and anybody that tells you they aren't is foolish."

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