Trained to Protect and Serve
Story by Eddy Hoyle + Photos by Lloyd Wainscott
The human-animal bond benefits us on many levels – companionship, stress reduction, socialization — and these relationships can be rewarding. But imagine working with animals to bring about justice, take criminals off the street, and protect citizens. It must be incredibly rewarding, but it also takes incredible commitment.
In Beaufort County, the Sheriff’s Office K-9 unit is a vital part of law enforcement. “These dogs are tools that help us get one step closer to solving crimes,” said Lieutenant Jason Covington. “For example, if a store is robbed, the dog may be able to track the suspect and might find evidence like DNA or fingerprints that lead to an arrest.” Currently there are four exceptional dogs in the Patrol Dog Unit: Enzo, Ares, Niko and Jag.
Ongoing Training and 24/7 Commitment
For the officers who choose to become dog handlers, it is collateral duty over and above their policing duties. These officers are responsible for the health and welfare of their dogs – both on and off duty, 24/7. Patrol dogs are bonded with a single handler and are required to live in their handler’s home. The bond is so strong that when a dog is retired from duty most handlers adopt their dogs.
According to Covington it’s a real commitment, and the officers receive intensive training from the American Society of Canine Trainers (ASCT) in Virginia. Prior to the handler training, ASCT selects dogs that have the right characteristics to succeed. Then the dogs are trained and tested before the handler training takes place.
When handlers and dogs train together, they typically attend the training facility for several weeks. Both the dog and the handler learn how to operate together in a K-9 Unit. The handler learns how to train and work with the dog, and the dog learns, among other things, what to do when given certain commands from the handler. Once they complete their training and join the K-9 Unit locally, Master Trainer Jeff Lauver develops a training agenda to continue the training and correct any problems. Then the handler and dog must return to Virginia to be tested and certified.
The patrol dogs are trained to the highest standards to ensure they are ready for deployment in the real world. The patrol dogs not only help apprehend criminals, they also protect the handler. Covington explained that training includes realistic simulations such as a traffic stop in which a physical altercation puts the officer in danger. “We can pop the car door open and the dog will respond to keep his handler safe,” he said.
The patrol dogs train daily with their handlers, and continue their formal training every week under the direction of Lauver. “We must maintain standards,” he said. So they constantly work on searching for narcotics, tracking and apprehension, article and building searches, decoy and bite work, and officer protection. These patrol dogs, however, do not work to find missing persons, as those calls are left to the Bloodhound Tracking Team.
More to the Story
The K-9 Unit at the Beaufort County Sheriff’s Department started in 1997 with a Bloodhound Tracking Team. This team was formed to track and locate missing persons and perpetrators. Today the Bloodhound Tracking Team has four dogs that are part of a tactical team. This special unit is separate and apart from the Patrol Dog Program, as is the third unit: the Bomb Squad.
“The bond is so strong that when a dog is retired from duty most handlers adopt their dogs.”
The Bomb Squad has a specially trained Belgian Malinois called Rig who works only on the Bomb Squad. Rig is specifically trained to detect explosives and cadavers.
All three units (Patrol Dogs, the Bloodhound Tracking Team, and the Bomb Squad) serve all of Beaufort County. According to Covington, “The dogs are part of our family. They are high energy and they want to work.”
Meet the pack leaders
Local residents can rest easier knowing these four crime solving canines are on the job.
The Workaholic Ares is a 6-1/2 yr. old male Belgian Malinois. His handler is Master Trainer Jeff Lauver who has worked with dogs for 17 years. On their days off, Ares spends time with Lauver’s three teenagers and Lauver tries to keep him relaxed, but on day two, Ares follows Lauver around the house and prods him to let him know he’s ready to go back to work.
The Newby Niko is a 2-yr. old male Dutch Shephard. His handler is Corporal Sean Toomey who joined the K-9 unit a year ago. Niko is the first dog Toomey has handled and the newest dog in the unit. They are both still learning.
Small but Mighty Jag is a 5-yr. old male Belgian Malinois. His handler is Corporal David Swinehamer who has handled two dogs. Jag is the smallest dog in the K-9 Unit and according to Covington, “Jag has a Napoleon complex because he’s the smallest dog, so he can be pretty feisty.”
The Big Boy Enzo is a 4-1/2 yr. old male Belgian Malinois and is the largest patrol dog. His handler is Sergeant Dan Mooney and Enzo is his third dog. Enzo is a great tracker, but when he’s off duty, he loves to be patted, and he has a unique way to get Mooney’s attention. Enzo comes up behind Mooney, squeezes his head between his legs and stares up at him as if he’s saying, “You can’t ignore me!”
(click on gallery thumbnails for larger photo)