'Justice' Prevails

Pfc. Mike Gubesch guides Justice, winner of the Iron Dog Competition, which tests police dogs' speed, agility and ability to avoid distractions.
Pfc. Mike Gubesch guides Justice, winner of the Iron Dog Competition, which tests police dogs' speed, agility and ability to avoid distractions. (Fairfax County Police)

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By Jonathan Mummolo
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, May 23, 2008

Criminals can't hide from Justice. He'll fight tooth and nail to keep you safe: chasing down suspects, finding hidden narcotics -- even summoning the willpower to avoid tasty treats when in hot pursuit.

He's Fairfax County's Finest . . . in fur. And he and his partner smoked the competition from three states in the annual Virginia Police Canine Association Iron Dog Competition, held this year in The Plains.

Justice, a 5-year-old German shepherd, is this year's Iron Dog.

"Some of the guys were making the joke that they want them tested for steroids -- both of them," Manassas Master Police Officer Bryant Arrington, one of the event's organizers, said of Justice and his handler, Pfc. Mike Gubesch.

"It's just unreal," Arrington said. "We say his dog's nuclear-powered."

The association's largest competition tested skills such as speed, agility and the ability to avoid distractions (such as food) while working. Competing Wednesday were 24 pairs of officers and their dogs from West Virginia, Maryland and Virginia, including pairs from Aberdeen and Stafford and Fauquier and Spotsylvania counties. The average overall time for the 1.25-mile course was more than 14 minutes. Justice finished in less than nine.

"He's got a lot of drive to him," a proud Gubesch said yesterday.

Given Justice's performance on the street, it's no surprise he took the gold.

This week, he and Gubesch found a burglary suspect in a house in the Franconia area. The suspect had hidden underneath a chair, Gubesch said. Within minutes, Justice had the man's jacket in his teeth, another successful collar.

And, per Justice's training to bite and hold, "there was no injury on this guy at all," said Gubesch.

In many ways, Justice is just another officer on the force. One of 13 patrol and narcotics dogs in the department, he rides in the squad car with Gubesch on 10-hour shifts four days a week. At the end of his shift, he goes home to his family -- which is also Gubesch's. His favorite treat? Whatever Gubesch's wife buys from Costco. When the lights go out, Justice sleeps at the foot of his partner's bed.

Gubesch said he and Justice have had "a lot of luck lately . . . with narcotics." But a brief demonstration suggested it was more than luck.

Without giving Justice a chance to smell it, another officer hid a set of keys in the grass while Justice sat quietly, seeming to pay no mind. But with a quick command, the tail-wagging sleuth sprang to his feet, thrust his dark snout within a centimeter of the ground and began gliding down the sidewalk, over to the lawn, searching for any trace of human scent or crushed vegetation.

Within seconds, he had the keys. His reward? A rub on the head and encouraging words, Gubesch's preferred method of training. "Our dogs get rewarded with praise," said Camille Neville, a police spokeswoman.

Gubesch and Justice's success is an outgrowth of their close bond and perfect pairing, said Arrington, who co-owns a K-9 training business. "It's like a marriage," he said. "You have to match the right dog to the right handler for it to be very successful."

Gubesch put it another way.

"When it comes time to go out on the street, it's just myself and the dog," he said. "He is my partner."

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