An afternoon in the park with Gino

By dani2011dhs@gmail.comJuly 5, 2023September 20th, 2023No Comments

An afternoon in the park with Gino

By Linda Blackwell Simmons
Photography By Olaf Growald

It’s a late afternoon this spring at Trinity Park, and Fort Worth Police Sgt. Jonathan Rhoades and Gino — his search and apprehension canine partner — are getting in some work hours during setup of the city’s annual Mayfest.

“Gino’s really good at switching from being an everyday playful dog to doing any task asked of him,” Rhoades says. “He has a great personality. You wouldn’t think he’s a police dog with how silly he acts sometimes.”

Gino — a happy 76-pound, 7-year-old German shepherd with a sweet disposition and focused obedience paid to his handler — was imported from Poland in 2017.

He’s trained to find the scent of illegal narcotics and apprehend when commanded. The FWPD K9 unit trains all of its dual-purpose dogs in-house, so the bond between handler and dog is exceptional.

On this day, Rhoades begins directing Gino with words only the dog appears to understand. Then it becomes clear he’s speaking German.

“He knows English, too, but I command in German much of the time,” says Rhoades, who doesn’t claim to be proficient in the language. “Others laugh at my accent, but not Gino. One of my officers speaks French to his dog.

“Our canines are trained to apprehend on a foot, leg, arm or shoulder, but never on the face or head. In my time of working with police canines, I have only had five apprehensions, and statistically, the FWPD K9 unit has only about five to seven annually.”

Rhoades brings an impressive resume to his position. He began in patrol in 2000 and was soon promoted to a specialized street crimes department known as Zero Tolerance, where he began working with dogs.

Additionally, he has earned National Judge status from a police canine organization, including specialized training in canine testimony and canine case law. He supervises nine handler/dog teams for patrol-related functions including apprehension, firearms, odor detection and narcotic detection.

“A K9’s ability to detect odor is endless. Think of a football field with all the blades of grass smelling the same except one. K9 Gino will find that one.”

Much communication between dog and handler is nonverbal.

“If you are eating lunch, a dog won’t try to take it from you, but he’ll stare you down while you’re eating.”

Each dog is different, and each handler has to learn his dog’s body language.

“Gino has his own little quirk — he spins what I call a Gino-Gyro when he gets super excited and knows he is about to do something police-related.”

Rhoades and Gino have spent six years together. Would Gino fight for him — and would he fight for Gino?

“Yes, absolutely,” Rhoades says. “The bond between the handler and his dog is amazing. Gino lives with me. All the dogs live with the officers at their home when off duty. We spend more time with these dogs than we do with our significant others. We are the only unit within the police department that requires 100% attention 24/7, 365 days a year.”

People often stop and want to visit with and pet Gino.

“To minimize any risk, we ask that people don’t approach unless told they may,” Rhoades says.

What happens when Gino is too old for police work?

“There’s a saying, ‘If you scratch a dog, you have a permanent job.’ Gino and I will retire in two years, and I am looking forward to that new job — permanent scratcher.”