The Douglas County Sheriff’s Office has two new rookies working the patrol beat: Drago and Shadow, the newest members of the K-9 unit.
The German shepherds — both from Europe and certified less than two weeks ago — have completed obedience and patrol training and will be working their way up the ranks by next being trained for narcotics searches.
Drago and his handler, Deputy John George, attended training on March 13. Shadow and his handler, Deputy Dave Stanley, were not available for interview.
Capt. Joe Duffy, head of the K-9 unit, said that obedience training is everything.
“We need these dogs to bark when we say bark, bite when we say bite, and come when we say come,” he said. “Obedience is everything, when you have people screaming in the middle of the night during a search.”
Drago is George’s second dog since he joined the K-9 unit six years ago, he said. The sleek, black dog with brown socks is just over a year old and “still very much a puppy, but a quick learner.”
Drago and Shadow were acquired from a vendor in Chico, Calif., for $7,500 each. The dogs are flown in from Europe because they are less prone to health problems than their American German Shepherd counterparts.
Sheriff Ron Pierini said that the K-9 unit depends on community donations to support the program which began in the mid-1990s.
“The care and maintenance of these dogs is incredible,” said George. “They eat like horses. Two dogs can go through a 50-pound bag of food in a week.”
George would know. Drago has been his partner and also a part of his family since November. When Drago was certified, George’s first canine partner, Akiva, 9, retired. George and his family now have two carnivorous mouths to feed.
When a dog reaches age 10, he or she is usually retired, said Duffy.
“When a dog retires, we sell him to the handler for $1,” he said. “The dog and the handler wouldn’t want to be separated.”
The human deputies spend more time with their canine counterparts than they do with their families, said George. Separating from a dog after working and living together for so many years would be hard.
“We still have Akiva at home as a pet,” George said. “My wife says that he is her dog and she just let me take him to work with me all those years. He sleeps on her side of the bed.”
With the new recruit, Drago, in the house, adjustment to retirement has been difficult for Akiva.
“It’s hard for him,” George said. “He’s so smart that he knows what we’re doing when we leave the house. He knows when we’re going to training by the clothes I put on or that we’re going to work because I put my uniform on and he wants to come, too. I hear him howling when I leave the house.”
But Akiva left the K-9 unit on a high note. The last arrest he and George made together sent a man to prison after they found 19 grams of methamphetamine and six grams of heroine during a routine stop, George said.
Dogs are able to smell “separately and simultaneously,” said Deputy Brian Howard, a handler and trainer for DCSO, which is what makes them so good at finding narcotics or people.
“Humans smell a hamburger and say, ‘I smell a hamburger,’ but dogs smell a hamburger and smell the bun, the sesame seeds, the lettuce, the ketchup and everything individually,” he said.
A canine’s superior senses makes one dog worth 25 humans, Howard said.
During a narcotics search exercise, the dogs were put into a room with both marijuana and heroin hidden in different quantities throughout the room. It took minutes for the animals to sniff out the contraband.
Duffy said that it would take a group of deputies hours to search a room as thoroughly as a dog can in minutes.
George said he hopes that his new partner will have the same successful career as Akiva.
“Hopefully, Drago has a long career and takes as many drugs off of the street as possible or helps finds as many missing children as possible,” he said.