by Lisa Tome
After years of working for her food, Howard Ewing's partner, Inez, will get to do something she's rarely done.
Eat out of a bowl.
Inez, the K-9 assigned to Ewing, a Deputy State Fire Marshal, previously only got to have food when working or training.
"She's a food reward K-9. She has to work just to eat," said Ewing.
And now she has retired. The policy for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms is to retire the dogs after nine years of service. Inez, a labrador retriever, was extended for a year.
She is trained to find accelerants. Having a K-9 partner meant that Ewing and Inez could be called to work a fire anywhere in Maryland.
Over the years, the duo have also worked in Delaware, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and West Virginia.
"Having a K-9 adds a week of duty to your monthly schedule. They give you an hour for K-9 maintenance but it's actually closer to two hours.
Inez trains daily. The state covers the vet bills and dog food. Ownership and the bills will be transferred to Ewing by the ATF. He has opted to keep Inez after her retirement. He never considered any option other than that.
"There's a bond that you build. She is my partner. She knows when the phone rings in the middle of the night that we are going to work. She knows by my clothes," Ewing said.
Technically, she only knows three commands "seek", "show me", and "work". "Before, I would feed her at the source (of a fire). Now, she's going to be a normal dog and eat out of a bowl," said Ewing. That has been rare during her career. The dog was bowl fed only a few times during her career - if she was sick or injured. She sustained a broken tail, electrocution, and lacerated paw while on the job.
The pair have worked more than 150 fires as a team. Those include high profile cases such as the multi-million dollar fire in North East Plaza, a church fire in Ocean City, an abduction and fire in Salisbury, and a double homicide in Washington County.
Ewing had been a fire marshal for a half dozen years before Inez was assigned to him.
"There is no dog like your first dog," said Ewing. "Once I got the dog, it rejuvenated my career."
And he doesn't plan on replacing her.
"I don't plan on getting a new partner. She wouldn't tolerate one. I don't think she'd take too kindly to that. She has been a good dog and has barked one time since 2005. And I think that was at a squirrel," he said.
And while Inez' work is done, her partner isn't moving on.
"I'm not retiring. But I won't have a partner at two o'clock in the morning anymore. It will be traumatic for her at first (not working). I will take her here or there with me at first," said Ewing. "She's been by my side. She'll still be by my side just not working. She will love that life once she gets used to it."
Ewing wasn't sure how Inez' retirement would be celebrated. "A lot of people want to give her a party. She's made a name for herself all over the state," he said.