A police officer and his canine partner
The K-9 unit of the Des Moines Police Department was first established in the 1980s. A small and specialized unit, the city of Des Moines has eight K-9s, with five dual-purpose patrol dogs, two single-purpose bomb dogs and one single-purpose narcotics dog. Officer Dao Meunsaveng and dog Bero (pronounced like B-ro) — a 2-year-old 72-pound German shepherd — recently celebrated one year as partners.
After serving in the Air National Guard, Meunsaveng began his career with the Des Moines Police Department in 2003 in the patrol unit. In 2008, he was assigned to the vice and narcotics unit while also working SWAT part time. Then in 2016, the self-described dog lover put in a request for the K-9 unit and was accepted.
“It’s a lot of determination. There’s a lot of devotion to the dogs, but (it is) so rewarding at the same time,” Meunsaveng says.
Most dogs employed by the department come from the Czech Republic or Slovakia. The dogs and their officers then go through a six-week training course at Top Dogs Police K-9 Dog Academy in Evansville, Indiana.
Meunsaveng and Bero work the first watch, a 10-hour shift from 9 p.m. to 7 a.m. They generally work five days on and four days off.
“We are probably the busiest watch. It is nonstop,” he says.
Not only does Meunsaveng work with the dog, but Bero also lives with him, his wife and two kids. To his 9-year-old and 6-year-old, Bero is a beloved family pet and receives all the love and cuddles any pet would. While Bero enjoys time off like any hard-working employee, he also knows when it’s time to work.
“When he comes in the car, he knows he’s working. And when he wears the uniform, he knows he’s working,” he says.
Bero’s uniform consists of his police vest and collar. Like a normal pet when its owner grabs its leash for a walk, Bero gets excited when he sees Meunsaveng with his vest.
“When I grab the vest, he actually slips himself in the vest because he wants to go to work,” he says.
A dual-purpose patrol dog, Bero is trained in detecting illegal narcotics, tracking, apprehension and article or evidence search. Bero is often called in during a chase when a suspect has made a run for it. The dog has been
instrumental in helping locate evidence in cases of major significance.
Although he is a working dog, when Bero isn’t in hot pursuit of a suspect, Meunsaveng is happy to let passersby pet him.
“He’s pretty friendly with people,” he says. “He’s great with kids.”
Going from having a human partner to a canine partner has its pros and cons. Meunsaveng had a human partner for five years before joining the K-9 unit. He appreciated the camaraderie and conversation of a human partner, which helped long shifts pass more quickly. Whereas if a shift is slow, Bero is generally sleeping. Even so, Meunsaveng is happy with his current partner.
“I think I prefer a dog partner, because he doesn’t talk back to me,” he laughs. ♦