At work, Gunner is a Blaine police officer's partner. At home with the family, he's a companion and a protector, but he'll never quite be a pet.
During work hours, Gunner is Blaine police officer Greg Rowe's partner. The rest of the day, Gunner is Rowe's dog.
Since June, Rowe and Gunner, a nearly 2-year-old German shepherd, have cruised Blaine each night as the city's first K-9 team since the 1970s.
The K9 program was brought back this year as part of a department expansion that's gone along with Blaine's expansion, said interim Police Chief Chris Olson, who added that the department would like to add at least two more K9 teams to cover the clock.
The officer and his dog share an obvious bond, born of days of training and long, dark hours sharing a graveyard shift punctuated by bursts of activity. Seven months into their partnership, Gunner still is settling into home life with Rowe's wife, Janet Running Rowe, and daughter, Kayla (plus two other dogs, a cat and a fish), where the relationship is a bit more complicated.
The traits that make Gunner a great K9 -- persistence, courage and a strong drive to play -- don't necessarily make a great house pet. As he tracks bad guys, and eventually drugs, he can't slow down to protect the furniture.
"He's not really house-trained," Running Rowe said. "He's a one-man wrecking crew, that dog."
Also, while Jake and Daisy, the family's other dogs, live in the house and yard, Gunner is in the world. He may pick up fleas, and contagious bugs.
So the yard is Gunner's living room. There, he can run with Jake and Daisy, play tug-of-war with Kayla, and act like a dog. He sleeps in an insulated kennel under the deck, his home on all but the coldest days.
Training materials aren't allowed in the house. The sight of Rowe in uniform and the squad car seem to switch on Gunner's working-dog instincts.
With Rowe on the graveyard shift, the family has to work together to care for the menagerie. Kayla and Running Rowe take their turns feeding and grooming Gunner.
Kayla's enthusiasm was one factor that persuaded Running Rowe, who was less than excited about the time commitment, not to mention the dangers to which life as half of the city's sole K-9 team would expose her husband.
Rowe acknowledged her concerns, noting that Gunner always wants to find his quarry and has no fear of bad guys or guns. Still, Rowe views K-9 as one of the premier positions in policing, and he wanted to try it.
"He said, 'You're right, it may be too much,'" his wife recalled. "Then I realized, I'm bringing him down. This was really important to him and he needed to pursue that. ... Kayla would be disappointed, Greg would be disappointed. We would make it work."
The Rowes said it has been difficult for dog-crazy Kayla to see Gunner treated differently from the other dogs, less like a pet and more like a "tool."
While he's not a snuggler, Gunner is gentle with Kayla and her friends. And Kayla says she feels safer with him in the house.
Gunner seems to like when she brushes his thick coat and plays with him outside. She likes how he sits atop his dog house, like Snoopy. And Rowe says connections to humans help to socialize Gunner.
"I'm really lucky with Gunner," Kayla said. "He likes playing. He's just like any other dog."
"Except that he has a job," her mom added, laughing. "He pays for his food."
Maria Elena Baca • 612-673-4409