Jefferson Award Winner Mounts New Oakdale Police Force

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Joe Cruz with Lobo the horse. (CBS)

Joe Cruz with Lobo the horse. (CBS)

OAKDALE (CBS 5) – A small Central California city that calls itself the cowboy capital of the world now has a mounted police unit, thanks to a man and his rescued horse.

When Joe Cruz met Lobo the horse, he knew he’d found a friend.

“There you go, that’s a good boy,” Cruz said, fixing a halter onto Lobo’s head. “There was really no science or magic to how I did it. I just saw and liked him and got him.”

Cruz adopted Lobo from a woman who’d rescued him. Lobo had been abused – skeletal, starved, and beaten. But Cruz saw something special.

 “He was stocky. His demeanor – he wasn’t afraid of loud noises. He minded very well,” cruz recalled.

Cruz had already wanted to saddle up a mounted patrol unit in Oakdale. Now his idea had legs. The pair didn’t ride into the sunset. They galloped to mounted police school.

“I really had no riding experience other than renting a horse on a trial and following the guide,” Cruz explained.

 Cruz almost gave up, but thought it would behoove him to stay.

“So the instructors didn’t see me, I walked him around the bed of a the pickup truck and climbed on the bed to fall on him. I was so sore from the first day,” he remembered.

After graduating from the one-week mounted police course, Cruz became an equestrian police officer last fall. Lobo got his own badge.

Their teacher, Captain Milo Fitch from Sacramento County’s Sheriff’s office, praised their perseverance.

“They did a great job. Joe is an outstanding individual, very giving and kind,” Fitch said. “That transcends to how he works and performs with the horse as well.”

 When Cruz is not working his full-time job selling propane, he’s often helping Oakdale police patrol events like festivals and farmer’s markets. Cruz pays for Lobo’s care and said his partner only costs taxpayers a dollar a year.

 With today’s tight budgets, the police chief is hard-pressed to say “nay.”

 “To have someone that has a full-time job, a family, to say, ‘I’ll commit my weekend to a rodeo, or chocolate festival’… is incredible,” said Chief Marty West.

Cruz and Lobo were such a hit, they inspired a second mounted patrol team at the Oakdale police department. The horse and rider have become town celebrities. Starbucks even gave Lobo his own gold card after executives saw a photo of him at a “drive-up” window.

 But as ambassadors for the police, there’s no horsing around with Cruz’s message. Sergeant Keri Redd said he encourages kids to steer clear of drugs and show compassion.

 “He’s telling them that there’s a lot of quality animals that need homes,” she said. “All it takes is some love and patience and they’ll make good animals.”

 Just like Lobo.

 “I can’t think of a better way to serve the citizens of Oakdale as a police officer than being on him on a nice day,” Cruz added.

(Copyright 2011 by CBS SF. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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