The resolution of a nearly two-week manhunt for an escaped prisoner in southeastern Pennsylvania brought attention to the searcher who finally subdued Danilo Cavalcante: a tactically trained K-9 named Yoda.
The 4-year-old Belgian Malinois is credited for bringing Cavalcante, 34, into custody as he attempted to crawl through underbrush, still armed with a rifle he stole from a garage. When Cavalcante refused to respond to officers’ verbal commands, a Border Patrol team released Yoda to pursue him, officers said.
Cavalcante was first bitten on the forehead, then the dog clenched his thigh and held on, said Robert Clark, supervisor of the U.S. Marshals fugitive task force in Philadelphia. That’s when Cavalcante submitted and officers got him in handcuffs.
Yoda is part of the U.S. Border Patrol BORTAC K9. A full-time team is headquartered in El Paso, Texas, and agents can be deployed throughout the United States when needed for specialized missions, a spokesperson for U.S. Customs and Border Protection said.
Dogs like Yoda undergo specialized training, teaching them from puppyhood to trace human odor and follow it. The difficulty of the exercise increases over time, with the handler tasked with reading the dog’s behavior.
“The process is pretty intricate, and it takes a lot of time,” said Bob Dougherty, the law enforcement training director at the Penn Vet Working Dog Center. “Once it’s a complete process, it works very well; it’s very reliable.”
It takes a specific kind of dog to work in that scenario. Dougherty said a dog in a tactical role, like Yoda, would have to be social, calm, strong, adept at learning, not easily distractable and able to work with more than one handler, depending on the job and agency.
“Not every dog is going to be able to work with a tactical team,” he said. “Not all dogs will end up being a Yoda.”
He noted some of the photos of Yoda on the job show him laying at Cavalcante’s legs. If not highly trained, the dog could have easily made wrong decisions, he said. But Yoda was able to function with the team, take direction, find, locate and apprehend Cavalcante, and, after that, be controlled.
Law enforcement dogs work an average of eight to nine years before retiring, said Cynthia Otto, director of Penn Vet Working Dog Center. Some retire earlier due to high stress environments; others, if they’re high energy, may not retire at all. Though some dogs are kenneled, many live with their handlers and eventually retire with them.
Using a dog in a situation like this reduced the need for lethal force, Otto said.
How police dogs, particularly those who bite, are deployed has been a source of criticism. Dougherty said that officers must consider when and how dogs are used.
“When used properly, when used lawfully, I think that it’s definitely an asset,” Dougherty said.
Border Patrol agents also assisted in the Pennsylvania State Police search for another escaped prisoner, Michael Burham, in Warren County in July. Dogs were also central in that apprehension. A couple encountered Burham when they went out to see why their dog was barking in the rear of their property.
Searchers tracked Burham through the woods afterward with the help of two dogs; he was eventually taken into custody.
This story was first published on Sept. 14, 2023. It was updated on Sept. 15, 2023, to correct that The Associated Press, quoting officials, misspelled the fugitive’s first name. He is Danilo Cavalcante, not Danelo Cavalcante.