Even the Ashtabula County Sheriff’s Department K-9 units are feeling the pinch of the county’s budget crisis.
The self-funded program operates outside the department’s general-fund appropriations, and, like the sheriff’s coffers, is running low on funds, says Mark Allen, who oversees the seven-officer unit.
Compounding the problem is that handlers have also seen their wages decrease as a result of furloughs the sheriff implemented to compensate for the $250,000 drop in his funding. Handlers say they inevitably end up shouldering a portion of their dog’s expenses, whether it’s a bag of dog food, a special treat or a piece of equipment. The deputies also devote a lot of time off the clock to their dogs; Allen said a minimum of 16 hours a month is spent just on training.
The K-9 unit fund depends entirely upon donations and fundraisers, the most recent being a reverse raffle held earlier this year, said Sgt. Jim Kemmerle, who handles Cain, a German shepherd. Private donors and civic groups help with donations throughout the year. In particular, Kemmerle said Harpersfield resident Charles Hamm Jr. has been a “godsend” to the program.
The fund spends about $1,600 a year for dog food and $2,100 for basic vet care. Hundreds more are need for training and handling equipment, plus modifications to cruisers. A “green” dog can cost as much as $6,500. By doing the training in-house and off the clock, deputies spare the program that cost, which can run into thousands of dollars.
Allen, who trains working dogs as a business, says the cost of dogs has escalated since the terrorist attacks eight years ago. Bomb-sniffing dogs are in high demand as part of the homeland security effort. Further, dogs are used by troops in Afghanistan and Iraq in a variety of support roles.
“There’s just a high demand for dogs of that kind,” Allen said.
Fortunately, the program has not had to acquire any dogs recently. The Sheriff’s Department has six dogs on the road and one in the jail, where the animal serves as a deterrent to inmate aggression and contraband.
The K-9s that work the road are dual-duty. Deputy Tony Mino said his 3-year-old Malinois (Belgian shepherd) performs building searches, sniffs out narcotics, tracks suspects and searches articles. Most important for Mino and his family, Nala is another line of defense.
“With us being in the largest county in the state, there are times when the K-9 partner is more valuable than a second unit,” Mino says. “No one wants to fight a dog. When they see a K-9 unit pull up, a lot of fight goes out of them. A dog is a good deterrent.”
The Sheriff Department’s K-9 units are often called upon by the Ohio State Highway Patrol for assistance, and sheriff’s deputies who don’t have a dog often call upon the K-9 unit for backup.
“You can’t beat having a dog,” Mino said.
Mino’s family has taken up the challenge of raising money for the dog, which could be called upon to put his life on the line for the deputy. The Girl Scout troop to which Mino’s daughter belongs recently signed on as a sponsor. His wife closed a deal with Pet Supplies Plus to provide four bags of dog food a month through June 2010. The Invisible Fence Co. in Chesterland will donate $50 to the program for every system sold as a result of a referral from cards distributed by the deputies.
Mino will take Nala to the Ashtabula County Fairgrounds on Saturday and Sunday to demonstrate K-9 capabilities and talk about the program’s financial needs with Covered Bridge Festival visitors. The group would like to attract corporate and civic-group donors who would commit to support the program, but any amount of money would be appreciated, said Mino.
If people want to donate food, the dogs are on a very specific diet: Purina Pro Plan Lamb and Rice.
Although the fund pays for active-duty animals, once a dog reaches the end of his or her career, it usually falls upon the officer to care for it during its twilight years.
Mino’s first dog, Armor, was taken out of service after surgery to fuse a section of his broken spine, failed to restore him to working status. The 6-year-old dog is part of the family.
“You couldn’t get rid of a family member,” Mino says of Armor. “I couldn’t get rid of a retired dog.”
Allen has been involved with K-9 dogs for 17 years and says the work comes with the inevitable heartbreak of losing one.
“It really hits you when you lose a dog that you’ve lived with, worked with. It’s a part of your life,” Allen said.
BY CARL E. FEATHER
A formal salute for a loyal friend. Dozens of officers and families said goodbye Thursday afternoon to one of Clear Lake’s most beloved police officers.
“She was more than a dog to us,” noted Chief Greg Peterson.
Abby was born to serve. She trained in several different cities before joining Clear Lake’s police force two years ago. Officer Ryan Eskildsen gladly accepted his new role as Abby’s handler.
Lt. Rex McChesney recalled, “they worked great together. It was kind of fun. Wherever officer Eskildsen was, Abby was there.”
Thursday’s ceremony is hardest on Eskildsen. After all, he’s not just losing a pet, he’s losing a partner.
Chief Peterson said, “she worked as hard, or harder, than any other officer on the force.”
Chief Peterson remembered Abby as more than a typical K-9 officer. Most dogs are trained to do one thing – attack. But Abby also knew how to provide comfort and companionship.
“When she was given a command to attack, she was a formidable adversary. She could turn it on just like that. But only on command. Other than that, the kids would come over to the department, they’d put their arms around her neck, they’d hug her, they’d pet her. She loved it,” he said.
Memories of Abby were heavy on many minds along Clear Lake’s shore, as a grateful community bid a final goodbye. Eskildsen and his fellow officers said, they will never forget their four-legged partner.
Chief Peterson told KIMT News 3 the department wants to continue its K-9 program. He’s planning to start fundraising later this year. He said a new dog will cost about $7,500. But he believes an officer like Abby is worth the money.
By Colleen O’Shaughnessy
The Clare Police Department has a new K-9 Program to augment the department with the addition of new canine officer “Swiper.”
The City Commission approved the program at the meeting Monday evening. Swiper was to be sworn in as a Clare Police Officer Wednesday. The program will be evaluated annually.
The $50,000 program comes to the city for nearly no cost, thanks to Officer Brian Gregory, also the owner of Northern Michigan K-9 for the past ten years and a trainer/handler for the past 25 years.
The dog, a six-year-old Belgian Malinois, was originally trained by Gregory through his K-9 academy and has been an officer with Antrim County for the past three years. When they eliminated their program, the dog was returned to Gregory, who offered to sell the animal to the city for $1, provided he could buy Swiper back, should the program ever be terminated. To be covered under the City’s liability, the dog must be owned by the Clare Police Department.
Gregory said the Belgian Malinois breed originated as a cross between a German Shepherd and Great Dane and has been bred into a smaller, highly intelligent animal. He estimated that the dog could perform as an officer “until he is 10 or 11 years old.”
Gregory made the K-9 Program proposal to the Commission and gave a demonstration of Swiper’s talents in a parking lot drug search. In his proposal, he said, “Specialty trained K9s are rapidly becoming popular in smaller departments across the country. Their ability to assist with officer safety, apprehension of fleeing suspects, evidence recovery, missing person searches and the detection of illegal narcotics has made police departments much more efficient.” He continued, “The dog’s ability to go from apprehending a suspect to socializing with our kids in the classroom is an excellent public relation tool for the city.”
The costs to the city will be “minimal,” Chief Dwayne Miedzianowski said, because the training for dog and handler is already complete, a current vehicle is available with donated equipment for transporting the dog, food has been donated by Johnston’s Elevator for the service life of the dog and regular veterinary costs have also been donated by Clare Animal Hospital. “This is a huge opportunity for the City. Brian has trained dogs for departments all over the country, including federal agencies.”
The required 16 hours of additional training monthly will be incorporated into Gregory’s regular hours.
Isabella County Sheriff Leo Mioduszewski supported the concept in a letter to the Commission. “I strongly believe a K-9 program will be beneficial for the citizen of Clare, as well as all law enforcement agencies in Clare and Isabella Counties,” he wrote.
By Mike Wilcox, Review Editor
Ricky Malone and his dog, Quinta, stand ready in front of an old beat up Ford Taurus. Malone, a narcotics officer with the DeKalb County Police Department, pulls on Quinta’s leash.
“Easy,” he says to her in a low, calming voice before releasing some of his hold and letting her sniff the vehicle.
Quinta’s nose darts furiously around the trunk of the Taurus before she begins to scratch at the vehicle. Quinta is letting Malone know she has found what she is sniffing for.
Quinta is a Belgian Malinois, she is just one half of more than 75 K-9 teams that have descended on Calhoun for a weeklong North American Police Work Dog Association National (NAPWDA) Training Seminar. The teams consist of the drug sniffing and bomb detection dogs and their police trainers.
The NAPWDA training seminar is just one step to receiving and maintaining K-9 certification.
“These certifications are important, because if an officer is called to court they would want to know what certification a K-9 handler has,” said Calhoun Police Chief Garry Moss.
This is the second year Calhoun has hosted the NAPWDA conference, and organizer Dale Pullen called it an economic boost.
“Even with the economy the way that it is, no organization has any money, we have still had a really good turnout,” Pullen said.
While in Calhoun the K-9 teams will undergo a rigorous testing and training process which in-cludes vehicle, building and package narcotics detection, bomb detection and search and rescue training. The dogs will also be tested for obedience, tracking and cadaver search. There are a total of 16 test units each K-9 team must undergo. The K-9 teams must pass 15 to be considered for certifi-cation.
“The process is intense, but necessary,” said K-9 Master Trainer, Rusty Jones.
Jones, a trainer from North Carolina with more than 8,000 hours of training under his belt, is one of 17 trainers, who were on site at the Gordon County Fair Grounds for the weeklong training semi-nar.
Jones said that each team’s approach to training is a little different, depending on the dog and the handler.
“Some dogs are trained in a passive approach, while some are more aggressive,” Jones said.
Passive dogs are more likely to sit once they locate the package or drug, while aggressive dogs scratch or bark at the location.
“It is a preference matter,” Jones said.
Over the course of their lifetimes a drug-sniffing dog will undergo countless hours of training in order to affectively do their jobs. Jones said another key element for a successful drug-sniffing dog is a thorough bonding process with their handler.
“The dog has to learn to accept you as pack leader. This is the best job you can have; you get to go and play with your dog,” said Jones.
Pullen said he has been impressed by the level of improvement has seen in the K-9 teams.
“This is a workshop,” he said. “The trainers this year are wonderful. During the training process they are taking their time to teach the teams.”
Trainer Genie Frost agreed.
“The main emphasis is certification. But the teams are also working on improving their skills,” she said.
The NAPWDA seminar will continue through Oct. 9. The majority of the event will be held at the Gordon County Fair Ground.
Genie Frost is one of just two female Master Trainers in the world.
“I have been a canine person all my life,” she said.
Frost, who traveled all the way from Wisconsin to work at the NAPWDA seminar, has spent the past 20 years working with dogs as a trainer.
In 2003 Frost decided to become a Master Trainer.
The process is intense; Master Trainers most under go a testing process after hours of training. They must also adhere to regular critiques by other professionals. The process can take years.
“It is worth it,” she said.
Frost has worked with more dogs than she can count, and she touts positive reinforcement and K-9 handler team individuality.
“Some dogs move fast and some move slow, it is more about how well the dog does than how quickly they move,” Frost said.
by Lydia Senn, Calhoun Times