Week-long training helps area K-9s, partners strengthen bonds

PERKINS TOWNSHIP, Ohio-- The bond between a K-9 officer and his four-legged partner is  unique. It also requires constant practice for them to work together as a team.

K-9 Handlers from Erie County and beyond are working side by side this week in Perkins Township to refine their skills and to maintain state-required certification.

"They are a tremendous asset to us in law enforcement and they are needed now more than ever. With the amount of narcotics on the street, the weapons on the street, you know these K-9s do an incredible job along with their handlers of finding things that the officer would probably miss in a search," said Erie County Sheriff Paul Sigsworth.

"They assist patrol officers in traffic stops when they are looking for narcotics. We also do building searches. They will do tracks of suspects that have run from the area and article searches," said Sandusly Police Lt. Danny Lewis.

The dogs are brought to the U.S. from Czechoslovakia and Germany already trained then matched with their handlers.

Bob McDowell, a retired Huron County Deputy and owner of M & M Boarding, works with a German breeder to pair the right dog with its handler, and help train them to live and work together.

"I like to find out what their home environment is. Are they married, are they single, do they have children, do they have enough room for the dog at their house? And I kind of tailor order the dog for the family that its going to be with so it's a good fit when the dog gets here," McDowell said.

Sandusky K-9 Officer Evan Estep works with his partner Gunner.

"For me anyways, this is the best profession there is and then to get to be a K-9 handler within that profession is just over the top. It changes your life completely, not only as a police officer, but as a person. It's really like becoming a parent," Estep said.

But that relationship requires hours of working together to refine. Training that is done under even the harshest conditions, like Tuesday's heat.

"We will be out when it's 0 degrees outside, the wind is blowing and snowing because you never know when you get that call. That dog has to go out in those elements so you want the dog to be prepared for any kind of weather," McDowell said.

Lewis said the constant training can pay off, like the pursuit of a suspect by the department's newest K-9 Honor.

"We had a subject run from us one day on the east end of town. They tracked him through a bunch of developments and Honor ended up finding him in the water behind a boat holding onto the engine. Honor ran him right up to the dock and found him right there hiding, so that's not something an officer probably would have looked for," Lewis said.

The departments also want their dogs to be gentle enough that they can take them to a school to interact with kindergartners.

The week-long training exercise will end with a test for the K-9s to maintain their state certification.

"I can't over emphasize the training and experience that the K-9 teams have, and the dedication that these handlers have to these animals. I mean, this is their lifestyle. They live this every single day. And they are to be commended for all the extra time and effort that they put in, not only to care for these dogs, but to train with them so when we need them, when the public needs them they are able to perform and do their jobs," Sigsworth said.

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