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Scott County adds new K-9 unit

Thursday, June 1, 2006

BENTON -- The Scott County Sheriff's Department will soon add an officer to the force -- a four-legged one.

The canine, which will be paired with Deputy Paul Dirden to form a K-9 unit, is being purchased by the department primarily for drug searches.

Sheriff Rick Walter said he believes his department may have missed hidden drugs during previous searches. "Obviously, if you have a dog you can do much better," he said. "I'm really excited -- looking forward to it."

Walter said adding a drug dog to the department is something he wanted to do since becoming sheriff on Jan. 1, 2005.

"Of course, it takes time and money," Walter said. With a tight budget for all county departments, it wasn't something he thought could be funded with taxpayer dollars.

"This dog is going to run strictly on donations," he said.

After sending letters out for several months requesting funds for this project, a total of nearly $14,000 has been received so far from various businesses and individuals, according to Walter.

The cost to purchase a drug dog along with the initial training is about $10,500. Continuing education and training costs an additional $250 per month, Walter said, "to keep the dog certified." The department will also need insurance on the animal, a cost equal to roughly 10 percent of the dog's cost.

Dirden said he was pleased by the opportunity to serve as the K-9 handler.

"I've always been interested in it," he said. "I've always wanted to."

Other than a search and rescue dog that is owned and trained by one of the department's deputies, this is the first canine officer for the Scott County Sheriff's Department.

In addition to being trained to detect marijuana, methamphetamine, cocaine and heroin, the dog will also be trained in tracking, crowd control and personal protection.

The dog will be able to conduct building searches for both people and drugs, Dirden said.

The K-9 handler training will take eight weeks. "It's going to be pretty intense training, for him and the dog," Walter said.

"I haven't started yet - we're waiting on the dog," Dirden said. Handlers and their dogs go through their training together.

The dog, which was born and raised in Europe, is being purchased from Mike Irvin of Riverview Canine.

Irvin is slated to return from the East Coast today with two dogs -- one for Scott County and the other for another agency.

As drug dogs typically don't start their training until they are 12-18 months old, the dog will most likely have a name already. "It will be a German shepherd," Dirden said. "He will stay up in Cape for a little while. Eventually he will live with me."

One of the department's existing patrol vehicles was equipped with a kennel and ventilation fan for the K-9 unit and painted to warn citizens to stay back.

Drug dogs typically serve 6 to 8 years before being retired. "A lot depends on the dog itself," Walter said.

Walter said donations for the K-9 unit may possibly be supplemented by money from drug seizures, which presumably should rise through use of the K-9 unit, but "the goal is to do everything by donations," he said.

The most recent donation of $5,000 plus coupons for one year of dog food, which is worth another $1,000 or so, was from the local Nestlé Purina's Golden Products division office.

Taras Waszkurak, director of human resources for the Nestlé Purina office, said the donation was a direct response to the letter from the sheriff requesting funds for the dog.

"We thought it was a worthwhile cause," he said.

While other Nestlé Purina factories have supported law enforcement in this way, "this is the first time we've done it locally," Waszkurak said.

"We have a history of supporting the local community," he added. "Purina is really committed to that. We like to support the communities we're in."

The local offices for Nestlé Purina's Golden Products division are within Scott County, according to Diane Urhahn, senior engineer coordinator, being located on Airport Road just north of Scott City.

"We have a number of employees that live in Scott County," added Dawn Leadbetter, QA technologist for the company.

"Everybody that works for the company loves pets, loves animals," Waszkurak said.