To local police dogs, CHP Officer Frank Romano likely smells like the “leader of the pack.” He has been with the CHP’s canine patrol since 1997, also serving as kennel master for patrols in nine Bay Area counties.
For the past year, he also has been building his own canine training facility on a 17-acre ranch just north of Foxtail Golf Club.
Known as Dogfather K9 Connections, the compound offers heat-regulated indoor and outdoor kennels, exercise areas and playpens, running fields, a 100-yard training field, grooming facility, dog swimming pond and dog taxi service. The facility also includes a doggy day care and the Golden Gate K9 division, a training program that specializes in police and security canines.
With its breadth of amenities for pet, police, sport and service dogs, Dogfather is the first of its kind in Northern California. It also represents a lifelong dream for Romano, realized with a bit of good luck, a lot of hard work and an enormous show of community support.
“Dog training and policing came together for me,” said Romano, 48. He grew up in New Jersey, joined the Army two days after his 18th birthday and served in the Gulf War. He retired in 2004 as a master sergeant after 23 years in the Military Police and Reserves.
In one of the patrol schools, he learned how to train police service dogs and immediately knew he had discovered his calling. since then he has worked with more than a 1,000 canines.
“I’ve always loved the idea of owning a giant dog sportplex, but as a civil servant I just figured it would never happen,” Romano said. “Then this big, incredible property went into bankruptcy, and while I really wasn’t ready to buy it or start a business, I’m blessed that I did.”
The parcel at 416 Horn Ave. had been used as a dog boarding facility but over the years had lost its charm. Rust had eaten its way through the metal crates and weeds had devoured the floors, but Romano recognized it as his canine dream come true.
“It’s bigger than I could have ever imagined,” he said. “I’ve got all the space someone in my position could ask for, and I’m surrounded by genuinely good and supportive neighbors.”
On the same day Romano discovered the property, world renowned German dog trainer Alfred Hupfauer also was touring the site. He was in California to train a wealthy owner’s dog, and had been chasing an almost identical dream of his own. He and Romano formed a business partnership and an instant friendship.
Romano also brought in Mario Jimenez, a retired dog trainer from the Sheriff’s Department, and the trio went to work. Romano is Dogfather’s sole proprietor. Jimenez is Golden Gate K9′s chief operations officer, and Hupfauer is its master trainer.
Romano and his team cleaned the grounds, hired a general manager and put in all new fencing. They remodeled and expanded the kennel, built new cages with slanted floors and added a drainage system to keep the area clean.
They installed a powerful aeration system to keep the dog pond sanitary, constructed a stainless steel dog wash station and hired an on-site master groomer. and before long, schnauzers, bulldogs, terriers and shepherds were barking at Dogfather’s doors.
Golden Gate also serves every Sonoma County canine patrol agency except Santa Rosa and Healdsburg, which are signed to older contracts. and more than a dozen businesses have offered their property as a training ground for the dogs. Romano also buys and sells the police dogs, acting as middleman between breeders and agencies. With most police dogs coming out of Holland, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Germany, Poland, England or France, Romano makes regular trips overseas, often paying more than $1,000 to fly dogs here.
For explosives and narcotics, he focuses on Labs, German Shorthairs and Springer Spaniels; for apprehension and detection, he trains Dutch and German Shepherds and Belgian Malinois.
“most people get this idea that we’re looking for these monster dogs, and that’s just not true,” he said. “What we’re looking for most are dogs with an intensely strong play-drive.”
In order to be ready for police work, dogs must show an almost incessant desire to hunt for toys with their noses. In the training fields, Romano’s crew has set up scented obstacle courses with everything from busted lockers to wrecked cars (donated by Cream’s Towing), all contaminated with hidden odors.
Along with basic obedience training, the dogs are taught to search vehicles, buildings and warehouses, and then are socialized around people in cities and the outdoors.
To make sure no one thing triggers fear, they’re also exposed to slick floors, grated floors, wood floors, flights of stairs, dark areas and approaching suspects.
“every department should have at least one or two dogs because they’re such great assets,” Romano said. “and today dogs are used for millions of other things, too, from sensing bedbugs in Vegas hotel rooms to sniffing out hidden cellphones in prisons and cancer in medical labs.”
Romano would like to retire from the CHP within four years and fully invest himself in Dogfather. He already has plans to build a training warehouse, erect a canine memorial at his swimming pond and set up several treadmills across the property. and he imagines it someday will become a fully outfitted one-stop dog shop that not only serves, but engages the community.
He has even made arrangements to host a Schnauzer Fest in late October, complete with beers, brats and lots of schnauzer activities.
“There’s not a ton of money-making here,” Romano said with a smile. “I’m just happy to help make my brothers and sisters in law enforcement happy, and to know I’m helping keep my road warriors safe, and that together we’re all keeping people safe in the best way we possibly can.”
The Dogfather K9 Connections is open 7:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m., seven days a week. to make an appointment or for pricing, call 595-3280 or go to dogfatherk9connections.com. to learn more about Romano’s training program, visit goldengatek9.com.