Man’s best friends: Sheriff’s office welcomes two specialized K-9s
Months of training have finally paid off for the two newest members of the Grand County Sheriff’s Office, Lady and Milo, a pair of German Shepherds trained in tracking, searching and even the apprehension of criminals.
The addition of the new canine units comes in part thanks to funding from the Justice Assistance Grant, offered through the Bureau of Justice Assistance, along with a grant from Colorado POST, Police Officer Standards and Training.
While the dogs have many useful skills, the most important one to the Sheriff’s Office is the ability to search for missing persons.
“Being able to catch a criminal who runs from us or to be able to make drug busts is cool,” said Lt. Dan Mayer of the Grand County Sheriff’s Office. “But if you can find a person who’s gone missing, or a child that’s wandered away then to me that is worth the price of the dogs. If they do nothing else in their careers, hopefully they’ll have done that.”
Milo is almost two-years-old and was brought over to Colorado from the Czech Republic. Lady, who’s almost three, came from the Denver Dumb Friends League. The dogs trained together at the Rocky Mountain Canine Academy in Black Hawk for about four months learning the basics, followed by eight weeks of hands on training with their handlers from the sheriff’s office.
But the training is far from over.
The dogs live with their respective handlers, Mayer for Lady and Deputy DJ Elthorp for Milo, and must undergo about four hours of training per skillset a week. That means that for a dog like Milo, who is trained in drugs, tracking and bite work, Elthorp spends 12 hours every Wednesday in training.
The sheriff’s office has been using West Grand High School to train, hiding narcotics in lockers and having a person hide somewhere in the building for the dogs to seek out. But the training is also extensive for the handlers.
“The training was 30 or 40 percent for the dog, and 60 or 70 percent for us,” said Mayer. “If you go on a track you need to be able to recognize what your dog is doing. Is she onto something, or is she screwing around? There are a lot of things we didn’t know, and as we’re getting closer on a track Milo, Lady and Jet all act very differently. It’s up to us to be able to make those distinctions.”
Jet, Sheriff Brett Schroetlin’s dog, has been with the office for about three-and-a-half years, and is the only of the three dogs trained to search for explosives and bomb components. Milo is trained as a patrol dog, meaning he is qualified to chase down and apprehend criminals. Both Milo and Lady are trained to alert to narcotics, and both are trained and federally certified trackers. None of the dogs are trained to identify marijuana, but will alert to harder drugs such as heroin, cocaine, MDMA and methamphetamines.
Mayer and Elthorp also have to get used to changes at home. It’s important that the dogs understand the distinction between work and play, and it’s up to their handlers to teach them.
“When we get home I take off his harness, his collar and his leash goes away,” said Elthorp of Milo. “Everything that’s associated with work gets locked up, and then he’s a home dog. We just want to make different associations when we’re at home so that he knows when it’s time to work.”
Elthorp said especially with Milo’s bite work, he has to be more careful with who he lets into his home, and must watch his interactions carefully even with close friends.
“I have to make sure I know where he is and what he’s doing,” said Elthorp. “People can’t hit me, touch me, give me first bumps or anything like that. Milo can’t perceive that as a friendly thing. It’s his job to protect me, and he doesn’t know who is coming through that door.”
The sheriff’s office pays for things like food and vet bills, but they’re currently fundraising to get new equipment to help the dogs in the field. Milo was recently approved for a bulletproof vest, and the other two will soon put in applications.
The office is also looking to fit its vehicles with “hot pop” systems, which automatically inform the handlers of temperature increases in their cars in case it gets too hot for the dogs. The system also allows the handlers to release their dogs from the car via remote control in the event they’re under attack or otherwise unable to reach their vehicle.
Because the dogs are currently sniffing around dangerous narcotics, the department also wants to invest in Narcan, a nasal form of naloxone that can help counteract the effects of an overdose.
The dogs are currently on duty, and have already assisted in multiple narcotics busts. But Mayer noted that their training is an ongoing process and that the dogs will continue to get better at their jobs with experience.
“They’ve been trained, but they’re inexperienced,” said Mayer. “We won’t really look at them as experienced K-9’s until they’ve been doing it for a year or two. But like anyone else, they’ll just get better at their jobs.”
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