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Bomb-sniffing dog celebrates 7th birthday
German shepherd will retire in March
Vivian Mink, left, helps Olaf with his party hat while handler Rusty Blalock watches. Olaf, a bomb-sniffing dog for the Hall County Sheriff’s Office, celebrated 7 at a birthday party Friday. Olaf will retire in March. - photo by Tom Reed

For the past several years, Hall County sheriff's deputy Rusty Blalock and his German shepherd, Olaf, have worked together to scour for bombs and other dangers. But at 7 years old, the dog is ready to retire.

"He's a great asset to this department and always friendly," Lt. Russell Rungruang said.

The Hall County Sheriff's Department held a birthday party for Olaf on Friday, complete with a bone-shaped cake.

The 90-pound dog, which donned a silver birthday hat, sat quietly on the floor chewing a large bone as officers exchanged stories about him.

Blalock said Olaf has responded to more than 100 calls in the last four years.

On one mission, he sniffed out a gun buried several feet in the ground. The weapon had been used in a murder in a neighboring county.

Olaf is one of a handful of bomb-sniffing service dogs in Georgia Blalock said. The dog was born and trained in Holland and responds to commands in Dutch.

After Olaf's retirement in March, and if approved by the department, Blalock will pick out a new service dog at a company in Daytona, Fla., that trains bomb-sniffing dogs.

"I'll need to find which one is compatible for me," Blalock said. "Like people, it's a personality match."

The animals can cost about $12,000. Blalock will then test for state certification in Savannah.

Olaf is one of 12 service dogs used by the Hall County Sheriff's Office, including patrol and narcotics dogs.

Though there are many, Olaf is the most well-known, secretary Vivian Mink said. The dog makes daily safety sweeps throughout the courthouse building.

Blalock said Olaf is thorough when he's working and a "big lap dog" at home.

"The only thing he's ever shown aggression towards is squirrels and cats," he said.

The lifespan of a service dog is about 10 to 12 years, Blalock said, so March will be a good time frame for retirement.

Olaf will spend his days playing and resting in the Blalock household, where he currently lives.

Retirement will fit him just fine, Blalock said, but he expects Olaf will be missed around the office.

"People think of him as the courthouse pet ... or mascot," he said.