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K-9s – partners in fighting crime

Sgt. Wade Lerfald is shown with his police dog Vinny, who will be retiring this summer after eight years of service. (Celeste Edenloff / Echo Press)

Most people tend to like dogs, and cops are no different that way. We just happen to like having them at work also. Our police dogs (K-9s) are partners that have abilities a human partner can't provide. The Douglas County Sheriff's Office has had a K-9 program since 1979, and we currently have two K-9 partners. Deputy Bob Peper is K-9 Ozzy's handler and Sergeant Wade Lerfald is K-9 Vinny's handler.

Just like people, K-9s hit a point in their lives where it's time to retire and live the good life. The average police K-9 works for 7 to 8 years. At age 10, Vinny has reached his eighth year of service, and will be retiring early this summer. Vinny still has the drive and desire, but the wear and tear of the job has begun to catch up with him. Vinny will enjoy his retirement years with Wade and his family.

We are happy for Vinny and also excited that we will soon have a new K-9 partner. In a few weeks, Deputy Ben Jarvi and Sergeant Lerfald will be travelling to Iowa to meet and bring home K-9 Hunter. Hunter is a two-year-old Belgian Malinois crossed with a German Shepherd. Both breeds are intelligent and have the abilities it takes to be a police K-9. Crossing the breeds has proven to be very effective.

Presently, Hunter is getting some training in preparation for attending the Minneapolis Police Department K-9 Training Facility. Hunter's current trainer has trained K-9s for the military and law enforcement and is very happy with Hunter's progress. Deputy Jarvi (Ben) has been selected to be Hunter's handler and in March will be attending the 13-week training in Minneapolis with Hunter.

Ben will be forming the bond it takes to have an effective partnership while also learning what it takes to handle a police K-9 and maintain Hunter's training. Obedience and socialization will be the first subjects learned and will be reinforced throughout the 13 weeks. It is important that Hunter is extremely obedient to Ben. It is also essential that Hunter is socially acclimated so that he can be trusted around other people, family and pets. The ability to control aggression is a priority with police K-9's for the handler and the dog.

Hunter will also be trained to detect and track the scent of suspects and lost or missing people both indoors and outdoors. Through his training and Ben's handling skills, Hunter will know the difference in the tracks and whether to be aggressive or passive to the person he locates. Hunter will learn to locate objects as well. This is especially important when we are trying to locate weapons or other evidence that may have been hidden or tossed by suspects. It might also come in handy if Ben forgets where he put the remote control for the TV.

Apprehension work will be part of Hunter's upcoming training. Hunter will be trained to apprehend dangerous suspects when necessary and will be trained to bite and hold. This means that he bites once and doesn't let go until he is told to release. One reason for that is to minimize the injuries to the suspect. Hunter and Ben will also receive specialized training in narcotics detection to complete Hunter's multi-purpose training.

The goal is that by the end of May, Hunter will receive his Police Dog One (PD1) certification and become our new partner to protect and serve Douglas County.

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Troy Wolbersen is the Douglas County sheriff. In the Know is a rotating column written by community leaders from the Douglas County area.