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Dr. Ps Dog Training

The Adventures of Nikki: Blind Fury
by John DiStano (

(Dog Sports Magazine 2000)

Anyone wishing to contact John may do so at the following address:
Beyond Obedience K9 Training
15 Cliff Court
Succasunna, NJ 07876
(973) 927-7387

About 2 years ago, there were a series of muggings in our area. It seems that someone was targeting blind women. The strange thing about it was that they all had Seeing Eye dogs. Apparently, this guy had a thing about getting over on someone with a dog. There was no violence, he would just grab their purse and take off. Lieutenant Magnotta had called to see if I could help with the case. I met him at the station house after lunch, and we sat down to discuss it. "I thought these dogs were trained to protect their owners," he said. "Not at all," I replied, "they are only guide dogs, not guard dogs. Not that select dogs couldn't be trained for that. But it's not the norm." Nikki walked in as we were talking. "Oh Christ," said the Lieutenant, "I remember her. I think the city is still paying for that lawsuit against us when she was still on the street." Nikki went over to see some of the guys. She's kind of a celebrity around here. "How's she doing?" he asked. "She's great. Better than ever," I said. "So tell me about this guy. What should we be looking for?" he asked. "You have to consider the fact that he knows a little about guide dogs," I said, "I mean he knows they're not trained to defend their owners. Not many people outside the field would be privy to that. Check out people who worked for, or were let go by, any dog training schools, maybe the local Seeing Eye. Any disgruntled students who may have taken failing the course the wrong way. They have a pretty big turnover there. Who knows? Maybe we'll get lucky. "Why don't you go down and talk to them," the Lieutenant said. "That girl Andrea still runs the place. She's always asking about you." "Yeah," I answered, "maybe I'll do that."

I had the opportunity to speak to one of the mugging victims. I'd head over to the guide dog school later. The victim had described the incident to me in detail. "Can you describe anything specific about him?" I asked, "Any information would help." "Actually yes," she said. " He was very interested in my dog. The first thing he said was "excuse me, can I pet your dog? I said sure. But I could tell by his voice he wasn't bending down to pet her, he was standing up. He had to be around six feet tall. Talked real fast too. Real nervous." "Would you know his voice if you heard it again?" I asked. "No question," she replied, "I'd know that voice anywhere."

The head instructor at the Guide Dog school was an ex-cop. She was an expert with firearms and something like a 5th degree black belt in karate. Real tough. Cute too. Kind of like a human version of Nikki. We had worked on a few cases together a while back. We went to her office to discuss the case and of course the first thing she asked me was, "Where's Nik?" "She's out in the car," I said, "I'll bring her in later." "Promise?" "Yes Andrea," I said, "I promise."

Come to think of it," she said, "there was one guy who washed out a few months ago. I never met him, but one of the instructors mentioned someone making a big stink about it. Tall skinny guy. Kinda jumpy. Could NEVER be a dog trainer. Latke. Yeah, William Latke. Want his address?"

While driving to his house I came up with a great idea. But first I had to make sure he'd buy my story. I rang his bell and waited. The door opened and I introduced myself. "Lieutenant Distano, Metro K9. Can I come in?" He replied, "the K9 unit?" "That's right," I answered. "Sure, c'mon in!" He seemed thrilled to see me. "You know, I train dogs too," he said. "Yes, I know," I replied, "that's why I'm here. So I gave him this story about how we had heard about his reputation with dogs and we needed his help. You could see him beaming with pride, all full of himself. He bought it hook, line and sinker. "We want to know," I said, "that if we needed any help, could we rely on you? You'd be doing the police department a great favor. But please, keep this between us." Of course he said he would do anything he could to help us. As I was walking out of his apartment, the clincher hit me. "By the way, I have a little tidbit for you," I said. "The local seeing eye just finished training the first Rottweiler ever for guide work. They're hoping the sight of such a dog would dispel any attempts at muggings or any other problems. Of course "experts like us" know that the dog won't be trained to DO anything, but then, who would be brave enough to mug someone who is walking a Rottweiler?" The look on his face told the whole story.

I called Andrea when I got back to the kennel. The plan was this: she would play the blind girl, and guess who will be the guide dog wearing a harness. You got it. We set up in the park not far from his apartment. Andrea was instructed to walk around with her "guide dog" and hope to draw him out. I had a couple undercovers close by to help with the arrest. We cleared the park out just before 6PM. He didn't take long to show up.

As we watched him approach the pair, I almost felt sorry for him. I mean, Nikki is bad enough when you are ready for her, and that's when you're wearing a bite suit. But this was almost cruel. Well, what this guy was doing was cruel too.

"Nice looking dog you have there," the man said, "can I pet her?" "Oh sure," Andrea said (thru her swat issue sunglasses), "she's very friendly." We could see him eyeing her purse, but when he went to grab it, a strange thing happened. I expected to see Nikki grab the guy and slam him to the ground. But Andrea cracked the guy in the temple and he went down as if he were shot. Even Nikki looked surprised. So Nik dove on top of him and had him on his back, kind of a supine bark and hold. "Alright," he screamed, "I give up!" "Get this dog off me!" The plainclothes cuffed him and put him in the squad car. I asked Andrea if she was alright. "Of course," she said, "I've laid out bigger guys than that."

Back at the station house, the perp was being processed. He would only do about 6 months, but I made a call to the warden out there. I used to train the prison dogs for him, and he owed me one. I made sure this guy would have some interesting roommates. Lieutenant Magnotta was there to greet me. "Great job," he said, "a little unconventional, but what the hell. By the way," he laughed, "I heard about that incident with Mr. Massi last month." "Hey," I countered, "to protect and serve, right?"

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