by Marty Metzger
North Forty News
The Larimer County Sheriff’s Office (LCSO) employs some specially skilled officers who are unconditionally loyal and ambitious for the sheer joy of their work, law enforcement professionals willing to sacrifice their very lives for their…handlers. These heroes are the LCSO’s K9 Deputies.
While some citizens might have seen these incredible dogs in action, few likely know the interesting backstory about their selection, training, jobs, and lives.
Jackie Knudsen, who serves as a LCSO Patrol Corporal and K9 handler, is also the current K9 Unit Supervisor. Since becoming a handler in 2004, she’s now working with her fourth dog, Grendel, a 10 ½-year-old male Belgian Malinois.
The unit’s other team members are:
- Corporal Jamie Smith and his 3-year-old Dutch shepherd, K9 Cash
- Deputy Aaron Hulme, who handles K9 Ryker, a 7-year-old German shepherd
- Deputy Mike Gurwin and Belgian Malinois K9 Taz
- Corporal Joe Pugliese, who handles 9-month-old black lab, Raven, at the jail
- Chriss Hebbeler and her 9-month-old yellow lab, Maizey (at the jail)
- Deputy Dave Feyen, handler of K9 Tovan, a Dutch shepherd just medically retired due to a back injury sustained during training
All patrol K9s are trained and certified to locate criminals, evidence and illegal drugs, said Corporal Knudsen. She noted that gender is immaterial as long as a K9 can perform required duties. Presently, the LCSO jail K9s are spayed females, but all patrol K9s are intact males (because, exposed to all environments, detecting a female dog in heat generally doesn’t affect them as it might other male dogs).
The LCSO employs several breeds: German shepherds, Belgian Malinois and Dutch shepherds for patrol; the two K9s at the jail are Labrador retrievers. Other than the labs (purchased from local breeders), the animals selected by LCSO at ages 16 months to two years come from Europe via an Indiana vendor.
“We have high standards when selecting K9s,” said Corporal Knudsen. “If for some reason a dog cannot preform their required tasks, our vendor has a one-year guarantee, so we’d return the dog and select another.”
She added that LCSO K9s don’t “burn out.”
“We select K9s with very high drives,” she explained.
To prevent a suspect from resisting, fleeing or attacking, a K9 apprehends him/her by biting and holding. These animals are trained professionals that learn to respond only to their handlers, who they regard as a wolf does its (alpha) pack leader. The alpha handler dominates by providing food, shelter and interaction.
K9 Arco, a Belgian Malinois, was so bonded to handler Deputy Dave Feyen that he’d respectfully push his way through the K9 truck’s sliding door to sit in the patrol vehicle’s driver’s seat to observe the goings-on until needed. K9 Arco, since retired, died last month.
K9 deputies are a well-travelled group that patrol every city and town in Larimer County, Corporal Knudsen reported. Additionally, they sometimes assist other counties or federal agencies such as the Alcohol, Tobacco & Firearms (ATF), Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) or the Marshall’s Office.
Besides police work, LCSO K9s serve as bridges between the sheriff’s office and the public. These canine ambassadors constantly perform demonstrations at public events, schools and churches. Kind of like rock stars, the dogs have fans who clamor to meet and greet them. Corporal Knudsen advised that all the K9s are highly socialized to humans, and because most of the handlers have their own children, the K9s react well to kids petting them. Wellington Middle School 8th graders learn about LCSO K9s through a special class at their school.
Each K9 deputy has a badge, an ID well-earned over the course of honorable careers. Retirement age is 10 but, should medical issues determine, can occur sooner. When a K9 deputy separates from working status, it lives with its handler for the remainder of its life. Veterinary expenses thereon are not covered by the county. Handlers can, however, get assistance for any such costs through a special fund designated for that specific purpose. Donations are always needed and welcome, said Corporal Knudsen. Detailed information about the program is included at http://larimerretiredk9foundation.com
The unit’s website, https://larimer.org/sheriff/patrol/specialty-units/k9-unit, offers additional information about the members of LCSO K9 deputies and handlers.
Corporal Knudsen advised the K9 unit will be adding its sixth patrol dog in spring 2018. As are its predecessors, this newest recruit will also be well-trained to protect its handler and the citizens of Larimer County.