There was a time when the thought of Police K-9’s would not have mixed well in a classroom full of students, but training has changed over the years to make this possible. Not only is this possible, the children are able to reach out and pet the furry members of the Butte County Sheriff's Office during classroom presentations. The Sheriff's Office’s three K-9 dogs went through extensive training last week, but it was quickly obvious how much they thoroughly enjoy being put through the paces.
There was a time when the thought of Police K-9’s would not have mixed well in a classroom full of students, but training has changed over the years to make this possible. Not only is this possible, the children are able to reach out and pet the furry members of the Butte County Sheriff's Office during classroom presentations. The Sheriff's Office’s three K-9 dogs went through extensive training last week, but it was quickly obvious how much they thoroughly enjoy being put through the paces. Each of the dog's handlers got warmed up by keeping their K9 partner close by with a leash and focused on their handlers, rather than the "bad guys" who stood close by and helped train the dogs. As the K-9 dogs practice their obedience, it is obvious there is a real closeness between each of the deputies and their dogs. The K9 officers came prepared with differing quantities of methamphetamine, marijuana, cocaine and heroin for the dogs to sniff out. The K9 unit uses different amounts of the all the narcotics. The differing sizes of narcotics, helps to train the dogs for a wide variety of real world scenarios. The narcotics are weighed and measured every time they are used. The K-9 unit trains a minimum of 16 hours a month together. Training is done in two hour blocks, three times a month and on one ten hour training day each month. This is only the beginning of the training though, deputies work with their K9 partners at home, as well as during their work day. Training is a constant for both the handler and the K9 to develop a strong bond and work effectively together. The training process is a precise, well thought out operation, and not only do the handlers know their training protocol, so do the K-9's. It is very interesting to see them learn or brush up on what they already know. The dogs recognize the training uniforms and get very excited when they see these come out. The heavy (bite) suit weighs approximately 45 lbs. which becomes very cumbersome as a dog is pulling on the sleeve with big sharp teeth. The professional attire worn by handlers is extremely heavy and hot, making many break a sweat within 30 minutes, even in 35 degree weather. Correctional Deputy Kerry Turner's partner, Keira, is seven years old and is more experienced than the other K9’s. She has earned real respect at her job in the Butte County Jail. Turner said whatever floor she is working on, that floor is very calm because the inmates know she always has her dog with her. Excitement and pride were evident as Turner explained the first time Keira snapped her head back as she caught an odor, just one of her responses. Previously German Shepherds had been chosen for this profession, but it is the Belgian Malinois that are now most popular. Though they look a lot like a Shepherd, they have a smaller stature and generally have a longer service life. Shepherds can be prone to hip displacement and usually last 5-7 years in this profession. Malinois can go on for up to 10 years in this profession, if they don't develop health issues. The last K-9 retired at 10 years old after eight years of patrol service. The Belgian Malinois work ethic is extremely high. They think nothing of taking down a 300 lb. man or being put up into an attic and over fences to perform a search. The K-9's always get respect, especially if a criminal is thinking of running. If a suspect gives up, he won't get bit by a K-9. Officers like their K-9 partners because they can be called off when a suspect becomes compliant, often times never biting anyone. This is a unique ability that is not found in many other tools law enforcement possesses. Deputy Ben Cornelius has a four-year-old dog, Solo, from Holland. Deputy Cornelius started by wearing a bite suit and agitating the K9’s during training. He stated the first time he put the big heavy jacket on for training it was nerve wracking. “To see a dog coming at you is one thing. To have a dog sneak up behind you is another, even if it is just for training." Deputies hide the narcotics early in the day, which means the odor could dissipate or travel depending on the wind or temperature. This did not affect the results last week as each dog found the narcotics they were sent to find whether, it was hidden high or low. Deputy Brad Meyers' dog, Kaya, is his 18 month old patrol dog now, but he still has his dog named Jacks who is semi-retired. Jacks is a dual purpose dog, meaning he can search for explosives and do other required patrol duties. Meyers has had four K-9’s during his career in law enforcement. Deputy Tracy Panuke has been with the Butte County Sheriff's Office nine years and started as a K-9 handler in 2007. Recently Panuke’s partner Cha Cho developed cancer and had to be put down in November. It is still hard on her, but even though she currently doesn't have her own dog, she was ready to help with the training of the others' dogs. ... To read the rest of the article, pick up a copy of the April 19, 2013 issue of the Gridley Herald.