Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office going to the dogs

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Argo, the newest four-legged member of the Sheriff’s department steals the attention of Officer Hyslop and Sheriff Short. (Tana Wilson/The Western News)

After a year of preparation, Lincoln County Sheriff’s Department received two 13-month-old German shorthaired pointers trained to sniff out narcotics.

Together, the two narcotics dogs cost the agency $32,000. Sheriff Darren Short said the office received a $4,000 grant from Flathead Co-op and a $5,000 donation from the DUI Taskforce to help offset costs.

The dogs arrived on Sunday with trainers from Makor K9 out of Napa, Calif.

Makor K9 founder Mark Rispoli has trained law enforcement and military dogs since 1980. Rispoli said most of their dogs are imported from Europe. The two German shorthaired pointers hail from eastern Europe, for example, where the breed’s use in hunting is renowned.

Bred to hunt, Rispoli says German shorthaired pointers are hardy and can typically serve eight to 12 years.

“It’s not unusual to see a dog serve 10 plus years,” he said.

Rispoli also trained the K-9 unit dogs for Mineral and Flathead Counties. He said his dogs are certified by the California Narcotic Canine Association.

The dogs in Flathead County had a search and seizure bust their first day on the job.

“Their first positive hit was at 11 in the morning on the day they first deployed their dogs,” Short said.

Rispoli spends about ten days on-site working with the dogs and their new handlers to get them ready for duty together.

“We always try to fit dog personality with handler personality,” Rispoli said. “We let them choose and it’s all worked out really well, as it usually does.”

Deputy John Hyslop is paired with Argos, a male, and Deputy Brent Faulkner is paired with Mila, a female.

The two dogs share the same dad, but come from different litters. Assistant trainer Jason Kerr said the dogs start training from the time they are weaned.

“They go through a socialization process where they are introduced to crowds, stairs, slick floors— you name it.”

Kerr said the dogs don’t have a lot of commands because they are nose dogs.

“They are taught to start pulling out the special attributes of their noses,” he said.

Rispoli described it as a game of hide and seek.

“When they find what they are told to seek, they get to play,” he said.

“When you go to a football game and smell the popcorn popping across the field, it’s the same thing for the dogs with narcotics” said Kerr. “If the odor is present, the dog can trace it to source.”

Rispoli said 20 searches a week wouldn’t be a lot for the canines. Short said the dogs’ workload will depend on the drug traffic.

“If we have weeks that we know we have multiple loads coming into town, we will use the dogs a lot,” Short said. “There may be weeks that things kind of dry up.”

Short is planning to raise money to cover the dogs’ overhead costs.

“Most of our fundraising will be steered through Unite for Youth because they are a 501(c)(3) and part of their mantra is keeping kids drug free,” said Short. “It just fits that Unite for Youth be partners with us in fundraising for the canines.”

Short and K-9 deputies Faulkner and Hyslop plan to introduce the dogs to students.

“We will take the dogs to the school so the kids can see them and interact with them,” Short said.

Rispoli said it is always a good idea for members of the public to first ask the handler if they can pet the dogs, but noted, “These are the type of dogs that can absolutely interact with the public.”

Two vehicles designed with K-9s in mind include top-notch technology to keep the dogs comfortable no matter the weather conditions. The vehicles also are outfitted with smoke and carbon monoxide detectors.

“These dogs are like one of our officers, we are going to take care of them as well as we take care of our deputies,” said Short.

Prior to becoming a Lincoln County K-9 officer, Faulkner had worked with David Thompson Search and Rescue dogs. When word of a K-9 unit was brought up he said: “That’s me, sign me up.”

Faulkner said he knew within 10 seconds that he and Mila were a match,

“it was a quick pick,” he recalled.

Kerr said that there is a lot of physical demand and dedication from a K-9 officer.

“You really have to be into being a K-9 officer because it is not for someone who wants to hold a leash,” said Kerr. “It takes a lot of time to bond and keep your dog trained up.”

Short said as soon as the training handoff is complete, the dogs will be hitting the streets.

“This has been a long process coming,” he said. “I am very excited to get the dogs out there.”

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