, 2014

Community supports sheriff’s canine program

by Capt. Martin R. Shirilla

Over the past two years, the Lancaster County Sheriff’s Office canine program has grown –literally – to include three working dogs, several “jail house cats” and another mascot dog.

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Bruno, a 5-year-old Belgian Malinois, is trained for narcotics detection (Ecstasy, methamphetamines, heroin, cocaine and marijuana), general patrol work and tracking. MDep. D. Shawn Hogge began Bruno’s training when the dog was 6 months old. With Bruno’s very strong prey and protection drive, Hogge had to focus on the dog’s social skills without breaking his spirit.

Lakota, a 2-year-old Belgian Malinois, is handled by Dep. T. Kevin Dawson Sr. Not yet certified, Lakota is being trained solely to detect explosives.

Dep. T.G. “Tommy” Evans Jr., is the handler for Sadie, a loveable 4-year-old bloodhound—and strong as they come. Somewhat of a magician, she managed to nose up her kennel door over the hinge pins and go for a “walkabout” early one morning—wrangle out of a five-point harness another time—and located a litter of abandoned kittens under a seized vehicle in the sheriff’s impound lot. Sadie’s sole desire is to run a track – anytime, anywhere, any weather.

So why does the office need this pack of dogs? “It comes down to response times” said MDep. Hogge. “We can have either dog en route within 30 minutes maximum. To get a state police canine team here can take four hours, or more.”

Following a recent bomb threat at one of the county schools, parents began arriving, out of legitimate concerns for their children, he said. Even with the building evacuated, imagine having 700 students, plus parents and onlookers, waiting four hours just for the canine team to arrive when the information is, “The bomb will go off in an hour.”

Why the bloodhound? “We have a growing number of elderly citizens who aren’t enrolled in Project LifeSaver who wander away at times out of confusion,” said Dep. Evans. “Sadie and I can be there within 20 to 30 minutes. For an elderly person, or a small child, one hour in the summer heat versus four to five is a huge difference. In the past we’ve had small children and elderly citizens out in extremely cold weather wearing night clothes and maybe a sweater. Reducing their exposure times is critical.”

What are the related costs for the canine program? Each dog needs its own kennel, car cage, heat alarms in the car—a dog can die from heat exposure, too—harness and tack, training aids, bite suits and equipment.

A “green” dog costs about $3,000—add another $7,500 for everything else— each—for Bruno and Lakota. Sadie’s start-up costs were about half that. Then add food and vet bills for each

“Each handler works at least 30 minutes each day in caring for his dog. Each team must train for a minimum of 16 hours each month in each discipline. For a dog with three disciplines, that’s not less than 48 hours per month just in training,” said Sheriff Ronald D. Crockett.

“We’ve had a tremendous amount of financial support from the businesses and individual citizens in our community to fund the canine program. We have a 115-by-65-foot fenced training area complete with hide boxes and a behavioral shaping device—the handler can cause remotely a reward to pop out of the plywood wall at several different locations—adjacent to the office and kennels. That field is named after our former office mascot, Molly, a black lab that was the pet of our retired secretary Mrs. Shari Brown,” he said.

The community support for this program has been huge, he said.

“Donations were received from The Animal Welfare League Inc., Watson Investments, Down N Dirty Motorcycle Club, Foxy, Inc., Walmart, the White Stone Women’s Club, Irvington United Methodist Church, Cross Roads Pet Clinic, Kilmarnock Lettering Company, Northern Neck FOP and Creative Designs,” said Sheriff Crockett. “The training compound was funded by The Earth Store, Potomac Supply and Northern Neck Fence Company, combined with contributions from individuals too numerous to list.”

And the kittens that Sadie found? “Two were adopted early on, and several women from the Commissioner of the Revenue’s Office helped pay to have the remaining three ‘jail house cats’ fixed, provide food and visit them several times a week,” said Ally Ward, the sheriff’s secretary, who often brings her own Lab mix, Stella, to work.

Capt. Martin R. Shirilla is the chief deputy in the Lancaster County Sheriff’s Office.

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