Published Saturday, December 01, 2012
By W. WINSTON SKINNER
The Newnan Rotary Club is spearheading an effort to raise money for a new drug dog for the Coweta County Sheriff’s Office.
The club and the Coweta County Adult Drug Court are co-sponsors of the project.
“Gerald Kemp is heading the effort for the Rotary Club, and Jeff Binion for the drug court,” said Joseph Wyant, a Rotarian and drug court judge.
Several contributions have already been received – including a $4,000 gift from Coweta-Fayette EMC. Gifts of all sizes are being accepted and may be sent to: Jeff Binion, Drug Court coordinator, 51 Perry St., Suite C, Newnan, GA 30263.
Checks should be made to “Coweta County Adult Drug Court Inc.” and have “K9” or “Dog” in the memo section “so it can be properly directed,” Wyant said.
Wyant said donations are tax-deductible.
A program about the drug dogs was held at a recent Newnan Rotary meeting at Newnan County Club. Wyant introduced Sheriff Mike Yeager and talked about the importance of canines in drug enforcement.
Yeager introduced officers and their dogs. A demonstration of the dogs’ ability to find illegal drugs was held in the country club parking lot after the program.
“We’re very proud of the canine unit that we have,” Yeager said.
Tony Sinclair, president and CEO of Coweta-Fayette EMC, said the utility gave the $4,000 donation to support “the Coweta County Sheriff’s K-9 task forces’s efforts to keep our county free of illegal drugs.”
Sinclair added, “We are proud to contribute $4,000 toward the purchase of a new K-9 dog to protect our members and their children.”
At the Rotary meeting, Wyant told club members, “We want to show you today what it is these guys do for our community.”
Remko, a local drug dog, was euthanized in October after contracting cancer.
“We want to find a replacement partner, and it costs a little bit of money,” Wyant said. “These dogs are not dogs you can pick up at Walmart.”
Most of the drug dogs in the local group are of the Belgian Malinois breed. “They just go and go and go and go,” Wyant said.
The dogs can be trained to track fugitives, search for missing persons or to sniff out guns or drugs.
Work is now being done to train dogs to alert to lithium. Getting the dogs to find lithium will help law enforcement agencies “find cell phones and other technology devices,” Yeager said.
In some jails, cell phones are a problem. Inmates “are ‘conducting business’ from the jails and prisons” using mobile phones, Yeager said.
Cost of a dog is about $8,500. “You’re paying for a trained dog. It’s the training you’re paying for,” Wyant said.
The dogs used by the Coweta County Sheriff’s Office are trained at the Alabama Canine School in Tuscaloosa, Ala.
When a new dog is purchased, a Coweta officer goes to Alabama for a month of training. During that month, “the bonding takes place between the human and the canine partner,” Wyant said.
Wyant spoke highly of Coweta law enforcement. “There is none better than the Coweta County Sheriff’s Office,” he said.
He said the strong law enforcement presence makes him feel good. “Not only am I home – I am in good hands when I come home. They know what they’re doing. They take it seriously,” Wyant said.
He said the sheriff’s office is so good “because of the man who runs it.” Yeager was quick to give credit to the officers who work with the dogs for the success of that program. “We’re fortunate. It’s because of these guys who run this thing. We’re recognized as one ot he top canine units in the Southeast – not just in the state of Georgia,” he said.
“These guys that handle canines – they’ve got to have full support not only of our office, but their families, too,” the sheriff said.
He said the commitment of the officers to the dogs is ongoing. “It’s almost like having an extra child in the house,” Yeager stated.
In addition to getting themselves ready for work each day, those officers must also tend the dog and get the canine ready for work. “It takes a lot of dedication to do this,” Yeager said.
Sgt. Mark Storey started as a canine officer. Now he trains other officers. “He has trained a lot of the canines that are around this area,” Yeager said.
While most of the local drug dogs are Belgian Malinois, Cricket – who works with Cpl. Rodney Ison – is a Labrador mix. “Cricket works in the schools. We wanted a canine in the schools that did not look so aggressive,” Yeager said.
Sgt. Bryan Hutchens works with Max. “Max is probably the oldest dog we have now in our service,” the sheriff said. “Max has accounted for no telling how much drugs and money over the years.”
In addition to Storey, Ison and Hutchens, deputies attending the Rotary meeting were Deputy Brandon Thrower and K-9 Nero, Deputy Trent Hastings and K-9 Jefferies, Deputy Adam Montgomery and K-9 Donja and Deputy Troy Foles, who had worked with Remko.
“We don’t name the dogs. The dogs are already named. They try to pair the dogs up with the officers – as far as pairing them up with their personalities,” Yeager explained.
When the dogs are working, “they could care less about their surroundings,” Yeager said. “They’re so focused on their work.”
Yeager stressed that the dogs are not addicted to the drug they seek. Rather it is a scent for which they search – with a successful search resulting in a reward.
“The dogs do not have contact with the actual narcotic,” Storey said. Storey said it takes several weeks to get a dog once an order is placed. “Most of them get shipped in from Europe,” he said.
“The selection process is very intense,” he said.
Some dogs are not suited temperamentally for law enforcement work. Those that are, however, can do remarkable things.
“We’ve used these dogs on the side of the interstate,” Storey said. He recalled having a dog search through about 50 bags in a Greyhound bus in “about two minutes.”
The dogs take training every year to retain certification.
“The dog’s nose is so sensitive” they can ferret out substances by smell that no human would ever find. “These dogs will climb over 25 boxes” and seem almost crazed when they are working, Storey said.
Most Belgian Malinois live to be 12 to 15 years old and can work 10 years or more “if we don’t have health issues,” Storey said.