The furry side of the law
summit daily news
Summit County, CO Colorado
SUMMIT COUNTY ” In the early hours of the morning on April 19, deputies from the Summit County Sheriff’s Office responded to reports that a man had broken into another man’s house and stabbed him with a knife at Farmer’s Korner.
As the suspect fled the scene on foot he dropped the knife, and quickly ran away from the critical piece of evidence linking him to the crime. That’s when they called Tommy in.
Tommy is a 3-year-old Dutch shepherd police dog, and a critical member of the Sheriff’s Office. Within 10 minutes of arriving on the scene, Tommy located the dropped knife in the dark, a job that would have taken deputies several hours.
As a dual purpose canine, Tommy is trained to be a narcotics and aggression dog. In addition to sniffing out drugs, Tommy is trained to track suspects and use his aggressive presence to force surrenders.
“A lot of times just his presence is enough,” said Deputy Brian Smith, Tommy’s handler. “A lot of people who aren’t afraid to get pepper sprayed or fight a cop are definitely afraid of getting bit by a dog.”
Tommy came to the Sheriff’s Office via the Vohne Liche Kennels in Denver, Ind. A highly respected K9 training facility, Vohne Liche Kennels offers dogs and training courses for police departments across the country.
“When we initially looked into developing a new K9 unit, we weren’t sure we had the money,” said Smith, citing that just getting the dog alone can cost up to $15,000.
Yet everyone at the Sheriff’s Office seems to agree that Tommy was well worth the cost. In 2007 alone, Tommy was dispatched 65 times, aiding in three felony arrest and sniffing out 1,272 grams of marijuana and 22 grams of cocaine.
“We’re all very proud to have him and he is a really great asset to our unit,” said Smith.
Tommy’s work at the Sheriff’s Office has been so effective that the department recently decided to add another dog to the K9 unit.
On April 21, Deputy Smith and Deputy Nate Opsahl made the 17 hour drive to the Vohne Liche Kennels to pick out Bobby, the newest member of the K9 unit.
“The dog that works for me doesn’t necessarily work for (Deputy Opsahl), so the best advice I could give him was that when you meet the right dog you just know,” said Smith.
Opsahl knew he had found a good match when he met the two-and-a-half year old German shepherd romping around the kennel yards.
“I was both really excited and nervous to be there,” said Opsahl. “Getting a police dog is something I have always been interested in and when the opportunity came about I talked it through with my wife and made the decision to do it.”
Becoming a police dog handler is a huge lifetime commitment. In addition to going through five weeks of initial training, the dog is a constant working companion and doesn’t fit into the traditional role of a pet.
“You have to act a different way around police dogs. They are definitely not pets and they will never be pets,” said Opsahl.
In order for them to work effectively, police dogs are not over-socialized and are trained to respond only to their handler. To ensure that both Tommy and Bobby don’t take direction from other people, they are trained to respond to 15 different commands in separate foreign languages.
“The dog doesn’t care about anyone but it’s handler,” said Smith. “The training has to be consistent to be effective, so we usually train up to 40 hour a month, and everyday we do something to keep their skills sharp.”
Both Bobby and Deputy Opsahl will remain in Indiana until early June when their training in complete. Over the five week training period Bobby will do narcotics and bite work both day and night, working with approximately 25 other dog and officer pairs from around the country.
“When he does something correctly I reward him with a tennis ball, the only thing he lives for in life,” said Opsahl. “Five weeks is barely scratching the surface on training so we have a long road ahead of us once we get back.”
According to Smith, having two dogs in the K9 unit will be a huge benefit for the Sheriff’s Office, helping to ensure the safety of both the community and the deputies on duty.
“So far Tommy has been a tremendous help to our department and now with two dogs at each end of the week we are hoping to do even better this year,” Smith added.
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