Cocoa Police K9 Bear Wins A&E’s ‘America’s Top Dog’ Episode, Advances to National Finals
By Maria Sonnenberg // February 13, 2020
Bear was one of 50 dogs selected out of 1,000 applicants for the program
BREVARD COUNTY, FLORIDA – Fame has not changed Bear, Brevard’s top dog, even one little iota. The winner of the January 15 episode of A&E’s “America’s Top Dog” program is still all about catching the bad guys with his handler and best pal, Cocoa Police Department Officer Dan Rhoades.
The show, a spin-off of “Live PD,” pits extremely well-trained canines in a vigorous competition of speed, agility, scenting ability and, ultimately, flawless teamwork with human partners.
Bear was one of 50 dogs selected out of 1,000 applicants for the program.
Competing and winning against dog/handler teams from law enforcement departments across the country required an extended stay in California for dog and man, but it paid off handsomely when Bear and Rhoades walked off with a $10,000 purse for the City of Cocoa, plus an additional $5,000 that Rhoades designated to the City’s charitable foundation, which allows the department to acquire more K-9 officers.
Introducing his furry partner during the show, Rhoades noted that Bear could run “50 feet in 2.13 seconds, faster than any human.” However, Bear is not just all about work.
“He’s a vacuum around snacks in the house,” added Rhoades.
ABOVE VIDEO: Cocoa Police Department Officer Dan Rhoades spoke about his recent televised appearance on the A&E Network’s “America’s Top Dog” program in which Rhoades and his K9 companion, Bear, competed and won against four other dog/handler tandems from departments across the country.
The seven-year-old Bear, the oldest in the field, beat out pups much older than he. While some of his opponents were slowed down by the water in the obstacle course, Bear performed swimmingly.
The competition mimics the daily routine of dog teams, with challenges such as apprehending suspects and tracking a scent. Bear will return for the national final competition later this year to try for the $25,000 grand prize.
“Bear did an amazing job, and I am so proud of him,” said Rhoades.
“We are honored to have been selected. I’m happy to be able to shine a light on the important role of police K-9s in law enforcement, not just for officer protection, but for public safety.”
Rhoades, Bear and their fans at the Cocoa Police Department celebrated the win with a watch party on January 15 at Time Out Sports Bar in Cocoa. Bear is one of four K-9 officers at the Cocoa Police Department.
Every dog owner or handler will tell you their animal is special, but Rhoades knows Bear is the crème de la crème. Eighty-five percent of canines enlisted into working dog programs fail. Bear passed tests with flying colors. Bear’s 10 other siblings did not.
“We’re all partial to our dogs, but Bear is special,” said Rhoades.
“He makes it look easy, because he has what it takes.”
From the start of their 24/7 relationship five years ago, Rhoades knew all 85 pounds of Bear made for an extraordinary canine. The German Shepherd, bred by Mike Green of the Sheriff’s Office for a special initiative, breezed through “drug school,” easily detecting narcotics even at 13 months.
The pup’s gait earned him his name.
“When I first saw him, he lumbered, just like a bear,” said Rhoades.
Although he was listed on the television show as a K-9 that “specializes in apprehensions,” Bear is, in reality, a multi-faceted pup who is equally adept at tracking and narcotics detection.
Rhoades will never forget Bear’s first find when an adult with the mental capacity of a seven-year-old wandered off from his mother near an Interstate 95 gas station in Cocoa. The man had seen a sign for Disney and thought he could just walk there while his mom was distracted by pumping gas.
Bear tracked him down to an abandoned mobile home, where the individual was found hiding in a closet.
“We walked past a window and Bear started going crazy,” he said.
Beyond the dramatic apprehensions and finds, Bear serves an important role simply by being himself.
There are instances, such as in domestic incidents, when the dog diffuses the situation through just his imposing presence.
To keep in shape, Bear trains for four hours every Wednesday at locations that include specialized training fields, the woods and even inside local businesses such as cabinetmakers Braden Kitchens in Cocoa.
Unlike many other police departments, Cocoa doesn’t require their K-9 officers to retire at any particular age.
“Our dogs tell us when it is time for them to retire,” said Rhoades.
When Bear is ready, Rhoades’ family will make his golden years precious. Bear currently shares his home with Rhoades and his family, which includes another German Shepherd and a French Bulldog. Come retirement time, he will see Rhoads off to work from his vantage point of the couch.
Technically the property of the City, Bear and his fellow K-9s are sold back to their handlers for $1, except that the City always forgets to “collect” the sale price, a real steal, since the training of such specialized canines can range upwards of $12,000.
The larger figure is well worth it, considering the animals’ value to a police department.
An avid dog lover who grew up around a bevy of Golden Retrievers and Labs, Rhoades began hanging out with K-9 handlers to learn the ropes.
He started at the bottom, wearing the padded decoy suit that is used as the “bad guy” the dogs must apprehend and wading through pain as the dogs took hold of his body.
He also attended more than 600 hours of patrol and detection classes. It was all worth it for a chance to work with Bear.
“It’s an honor to have been selected as a K-9 handler,” said Rhoades. “It’s the best job you can have.”
If he could talk, his furry partner would agree.
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