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Detective Underwood and Til: A career-long team, they hope

Pair most recently heroes in weekend recapture of Adair County Regional Jail escapee
Photo accompanies this story
By Ed Waggener

Detective Ricky Underwood and his partner, Til, are on call 24/7, but Detective Underwood wouldn't trade his job for any other, and from the enthusiasm Til shows, it doesn't appear the handsome, otherwise playful, German Shepherd would trade jobs either.

They went through training together, and now they're together at all times. Til rides in back seat cage, and he lives at the Underwood residence in Taylor County.

Til is a Kentucky State Police officer. Harming him is the same offense as harming a police officer. He's U.S. Customs certified, too.

The German Shepherd is a Tracking Dog. He's trained to track and to protect. He's also trained to detect narcotics. "He can scent marijuana, ecstasy, cocaine, heroin, and meth," Detective Underwood said.

He's multi-purposed dog

He's multi-purposed, but he's not a Patrol Dog, his partner said. "A Patrol Dog is a dog that an officer can send off leash to apprehend and take down an individual."

When Til and Detective Underwood captured the Adair County Regional Jail escapee, there was no physical contact between the dog and the runner. Til barked and circled the escapee and Detective Underwood warned the man to lay down or be bitten, and the man complied. The capture was in a field near Good Shepherd Catholic Church after the escapee had crossed Greensburg Street onto the Adair County Schools campus and had circled back across Greensburg Street.

Til can also go anywhere Detective Underwood chooses to take him. Til can legally go into any building, the same as a seeing eye dog can do.

He does go into schools often. "He's a big hit with the kids in the D.A.R.E. programs," Detective Underwood said. Detective Underwood, with Till's help, teaches the kids how to avoid involvement with drugs. D.A.R.E. The acronym stands for Drug Abuse Resistance Education, and it also is designed to keep young people out of gangs and to avoid violence.

Tracks by scent and ground disturbances

"Dogs track by scent and by ground disturbance," Detective Underwood said. "They detect scents humans can't pick up and ground disturbances not obvious to humans."

The ground disturbances Til sees aren't evident to Detective Underwood, even though he is highly trained in tracking. "But I can tell when Til is beginning to track," he said.

Til can make scent associations from such items as clothes and car seats. If an individual being tracked abandons a car, Til can pick up the scent from the car seat. "But cars are one of the ways the trail can be broken," Detective Underwood said. "If the Til tracks an individual's trail to the point where the individual got in a car and drove off, the trail is cold for Til."

But water does not end the trail. "There are scent pools in the water that Til can smell. He can track across a lake, if he has to," Detective Underwood said.

Til can go anywhere Detective Underwood chooses to take him

"And he goes into courthouses. He could go in any building," he said. But when asked about going into restaurants, Detective Underwood said, "Yes, he could. But I leave locked in the car with the air condition on when I go to restaurants. He might frighten some people."

The pair became a more celebrated team following the almost instantaneous capture of an escapee from the Adair County Regional Jail. The hunt involved six KSP units plus Columbia Police Department units. But in less than 30 minutes, Til was circling the escapee and Detective Underwood was giving him instructions on proper behavior to avoid being bitten. In minutes, the escapee was back in jail.

That was a rewarding experience. But there have been others. Perhaps the most moving was when Detective Underwood and Til found an elderly, blind woman who had been missing six hours. "She just wandered off, and Til found her," he said.

Til and Detective Underwood have been together for two years as part of the elite Kentucky State Police Special OPs unit, which is headquartered at Bluegrass Station in Lexington.

When the unit KSP K-9 corps was established, there were originally six teams. Because of the effectiveness and the cost efficiency of the teams, the corps has been expanded to 20 units.

Detective Underwood and Til aren't assigned to Columbia Post 15, but most of their work is here. Officially he is attached to Special OPs.

Tough, sought after assignment.

It's not easy to get the assignment. Detective Underwood had to complete for the job. It was an assignment he wanted more than any other. He loves police work and he loves dogs. He had enjoyed his other assignments, which included a stint at the Madisonville Post.

He had to go through tough interviews. Then there was intensive training and certification. "The training is ongoing," Detective Underwood said, "we both have to be recertified each year."

Til is an expensive dog, but he's a very cost effective officer for the KSP. "The state bought him for around $4,000," Detectve Underwood said. The German Shepherd came from France. He was a green or untrained dog at the time. "He would have cost about $3,500 more if he had been trained," he said.

Til gets the very best veterinary care and the finest canine nutrition. Til's food is the best, but the 100-lb German Shepherd eats only about a cup of food a day, Detective Underwood said.

The animal's cost effectiveness is evident when Detective Underwood take's out a green golf ball and tosses it. "He does it all for this," his partner said. He tossed the ball 50 feet and Til retrieved it in seconds. "He loves to play ball. That's his reward."

Detective Underwood hopes the partnership lasts through his career

Detective Underwood is not certain of Til's age, but puts it at between three and one half and four years. That would make the dog about 24 to 28 years old in human years.

The State Policeman doesn't easily betray emotions, but one question seemed to be slightly disturbing. When asked if he expected to spend the balance of his career with Til, he paused and the two regarded each other, and Detective Underwood paused. Then he said, "As long as I'm able to work and he's able to, we'll stay together."

We can all take comfort in that.
See related story:

Escapee from Adair Regional Jail quickly apprehended

Detective Ricky Underwood carries business cards with a full color photo of the team. It reads: Kentucky State Police. Tpr. R. Underwood U/644 Canine Partner "Til" KSP SPECIAL OPS. Bluegrass Station, Bldg 30. 5751 Briar Hill Road, Lexington, KY 40516. Call (270) 634-2668. Pager (800) 900-3403 ext 30160. Post 15 Columbia (270) 384-4706.

This story was posted on 2005-07-08 06:47:11
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2005-07-08 - Columbia, KY - Photo Ed Waggener. Kentucky State Police officers Til and Ricky Underwood were heroes over the past weekend in the recapture of an escapee from the Adair County Regional Jail.
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