Brittney Lofthouse – Staff Writer

Macon County Sheriff Robert Holland is taking a new approach to combat the drug epidemic, focusing on the growth and expansion of the Macon County K-9 unit.

Police dogs can be trained to perform an amazing variety of jobs, including tracking, narcotics detection, explosives detection, cadaver detection, and public enforcement, all areas Macon County is equipped to handle.

“Our K9 program currently consist of two Belgian Malonoise full patrol dogs, drug dogs, a Bloodhound for search and rescue dogs, a Labrador for explosives and a Dutch Shepherd for explosive and firearms, and a cadaver dog,” said Sheriff Holland. “Each K9 is an invaluable resource to our agency.  Without either one, then when the need arises, then it a resource we would not be able to utilize.  These four legged officers have been proven to help the MCSO save lives.”

MCSO recently lost a third Malonoise after longtime K9 Conan was diagnosed with cancer. With the loss of Conan, and the drug epidemic continuing in Macon County, Sheriff Holland  wanted to expand the department’s K9 unit.

“These K9s are used as full patrol dogs which includes the capability of conducting evidence searches, article searches, tracking of both suspects of lost individuals or citizens suffering from dementia or even children with disabilities such as autism who have a tendency to wander and get lost,” said Sheriff Holland. “These K9s are most utilized for conducting drug searches during vehicle stops and arrests at homes. K9s are a valuable asset to the agency and have become an absolute must in remaining a proactive agency and fighting the drug problem facing our community and every other community in the nation. Law enforcement agencies have a difficult time as it is fighting the drug epidemic facing all our communities and without a successful and well trained Narcotics K9 unit within their agency they are missing a vital tool to assist them in addressing many of the issues related to illegal drug activity. I couldn’t imagine not having a K9 within the MCSO and I have no intention of letting that happen.”

Properly trained K9s can actually search an area four times faster than a human being can – and with a much higher accuracy and a nose for detail. Their sense of smell is more than 50 times greater than that of a human’s.

The community has stepped up to support MCSO’s K9 unit with recent donations from Entegra Bank, who donated $5,000 and Protected Second Custom Guns, who donated $1,000.

“These funds, along with any other funds donated to this cause will be utilized 100 percent for our K9 program,” said Sheriff Holland. “The funds raised and donated may be used for the purchasing new canines, equipment used by the K9 unit such as leashes, collars, Bite Suits, Bite Sleeves, Kennels for both housing and to install transport kennels in K9 officers patrol vehicles which includes heat sensors.  As far as exactly what these funds will be earmarked for depends on how much is raised.”

The community at large can support the MCSO expanding K9 unit in October at The Golf Club at Mill Creek. Mill Creek, along with Entegra Bank, has launched “Operation 911” a charity golf tournament to raise funds for the K9 unit. The event, which is intended to become an annual golf tournament to benefit emergency service departments in Macon County, will benefit the K9 unit in its inaugural event.

Sheriff Holland said that by 2018, he hopes to be able to raise enough funds to outfit two additional officers with K9s and the equipment needed to train and properly handle that K9. “I estimate it will cost up to around $8,000 to equip each vehicle and purchase of a new K9 and the needed supplies that go with that K9,” said Holland.

The MCSO generally purchase puppies and officers train them with certified trainers. The cost for a K9 with no training known as “green” can range from donated to a couple thousand dollars and even higher.  According to Holland, purchasing puppies allows for the K9 and handler to bond, which is a vital part of the partnership.

As far as pay for K9 handlers, just like many MCSO officers, K9 handlers wear many hats in their daily activities.  K9 officers live with their handlers, and when not on duty, without additional pay or compensation, K9 handlers are expected to care for and constantly train their dog. Sheriff Holland said that K9 handlers consider it a privilege to serve in the position.

“A K9 officer doesn’t make any difference in salary than any other officer trained in a specific field of expertise,” said Sheriff Holland. “While I may not agree with that, it is how our county salaries are set up.  Most K9 officers would agree it’s a privilege to have the opportunity to serve in that capacity and understand how important of a tool the K9 and officer are and eagerly step up to the plate to benefit our agency and community as a whole. While a K9 is a valuable tool, that tool becomes very much a member of an officer’s family. This is why the very first question asked of a candidate for canine officer is how does your family feel about you asking for this position and the tremendous responsibility? Just like any other position in our agency, you can’t put a price tag on their training.  Each and every officer employed train continuously year after year. When you feel you’ve had all the training you need, it’s time to find a new profession. You become a risk to yourself and to those you work with.”

“Operation 911” charity golf tournament is scheduled for Oct. 7 and 8, with a practice round on Oct. 6. For more information regarding the tournament, contact the Golf Club at Mill Creek at 828.524.4653.