SUMMERVILLE, SC (WCSC) - The death of a North Charleston Police K-9 in a car accident in February put the four-legged cops in the spotlight.
What many people do not know is that the dogs go through rigorous training to earn their badges.
The Summerville Police Department's K-9 officers work on their skills under the watchful eyes of their handlers.
"He knows the difference between when it's time to go to work and when it's time to be a dog," said Officer Adam Throckmorton. "I mean I basically spend 24 hours a day, seven days a week with my dog."
Officer Jacob Cramer recently had a close call with his K-9 partner. In February, Cramer's cruiser was hit from behind by an alleged drunk driver.
"The first thoughts that ran through my head was my partner," Cramer said.
Knowing something could happen to their dogs, the handlers have a first aid kit for them.
"We can give the dog IVs. Some of us carry peroxide, counteracts the drugs if they ingest anything. Reality is getting to a vet may not be that close," Officer James McClellan said.
The dogs are German Shepherds or a mix of Shepherd and Belgian Malinois.
They usually respond to verbal commands in a foreign language and they can perform several jobs.
One of those jobs is searching for drugs and weapons in cars. After finding the drugs, the dog is rewarded.
The K-9's ability to smell is 40,000 times better than a human's.
"What our dogs are looking for from that aspect is the human odor on that article," Throckmorton said. "We smell the pizza. They smell the cheese, they smell the sauce, they smell the bread. They're actually able to pull all these different odors out and select each individual odor."
They can find drugs that are hidden behind a door.
It costs a lot of money to care for the dogs, close to $23,000 last year.
It cost more than $7,000 for training, more than $6,000 for veterinarian expenses, more than $6,000 for gear for the handlers and dogs, and about $3,000 for dog food.
It's food that gives the K-9s energy for one of their most dangerous jobs, tracking down a fleeing suspect.
The officers play the role of the bad guys. They wear a special bite suit to prevent from getting hurt.
"Sometimes the suit works and sometimes it doesn't. You end up getting bitten, it happens," McClellan said.
Throckmorton is about to find out.
"Suspect, stop or I will send my dog," one of the officers warns.
The K-9 attacks Throckmorton and bites him in the arm.
Officer Korey Nelson has been a guinea pig for the K-9s many times. This time, the dog managed to leave its mark on Nelson's forearm.
"It's hurting but thank God for the suit," Nelson said. "Even in this suit, it hurts. I couldn't imagine being no suit or nothing, I couldn't even imagine."
Live 5 News reporter Harve Jacobs found out for himself after volunteering to be attacked by one of the K-9s. Officers helped him get into the bite suit and provided a helmet for even more protection for a training exercise.
The powerful dog knocked Jacobs to the ground, bit the suit and thrashed him around.
"Just the anticipation of the dog biting me and you feel the oomph. You feel a little bit of pressure and then you just go straight down and just feel him just tearing into the suit," Jacobs said.
For these dogs, it's another day at the office, preparing to put their lives on the line to protect us.
The police department says most of the expenses for the K-9's are bought with money that was seized from drug dealers, taking the burden off the taxpayer.