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K9 officer may be coming to sheriff’s department

A new service might join Lincoln County’s law enforcement in the form of a tracking dog, a K9 officer specializing in sniffing out lost or at-large individuals. Lincoln County Constable Post 1 Kelly Porter addressed the Board of Supervisors in its meeting on Monday about a K9-training organization that has agreed to donate an animal and training valued at $20,000.

The dog would come from a nationally recognized organization called Universal K9 in San Antonio, Texas, which rescues dogs on the brink of being euthanized and trains them to be police K9 officers. Most law enforcement K9s are purebreds from Europe, which many counties and departments are unable to afford. Universal K9 found that given the chance and training, certain shelter dogs are equally effective as the ones from overseas which cost tens of thousands of dollars. Universal K9 makes these furry officers available to departments affordably, by donating, providing grants or selling them at a very reduced priced.

“This agency has agreed to donate an animal that they have valued at $16,000 plus the training they have valued at $4,000.,” Porter told the board on Monday. “I’d be required to go to San Antonio for a two-week handler’s and animals course, bring the dog back and then, of course, have to train with it.”

Porter said he had been searching for and talking to the sheriff about a tracking dog for the county, and applied for Universal K9’s police dog grant program about six months ago. Lincoln County had one such animal, but he died of cancer three years ago and wasn’t replaced.

The agency wants to donate the dog to the handler, which would be Porter. Porter said that in the past when the organization has donated dogs to agencies, there have been issues when the officer who trained with the animal is fired or elects to leave and go to another agency. If the agency owns the animal, it will be left at the agency, no longer in service because the person it was trained with is gone. Porter posed the question of the legality of the county assisting him with veterinary bills or other expenses for the animal if it was technically privately owned.

“If I have to sign a contract with the county saying I would provide however many years of service for however many years the animal and myself are able to do so, I will,” Porter said. “The housing and feeding I can handle but just if there were medical issues that came up for the animal that maybe I couldn’t cover, I wondered if the county could help out with it.”

County Attorney Bob Allen said he would look into what arrangement could be made.

“It’s too good a deal not to figure out some way to do it,” Allen said.

Sheriff Steve Rushing said whatever his office could do to facilitate this, it would, adding that he thought it was a good idea. The opinion of the board was favorable. Chancery Clerk Tillmon Bishop and board President Eddie Brown expressed support for the endeavor, and County Administrator David Fields spoke about the importance of these animals from personal experience.

“Back in 2010, my daughter walked away, followed our dog away from our house, and we had all of Macedonia Road searching for her,” Fields said. “And I had called Steve [Rushing] and Clifford [Galey], and we had the dog at that time I think. Fortunately we found her over on James Drive before they got there but — special needs kids can walk away from the house in a heartbeat, trust me I know.”

With Lincoln County’s abundance of rural areas, any sort of missing person search or criminal manhunt is likely to turn into a sweep of the woods.

“With the rural areas that we have, usually we have children and elderly adults that go missing in the woods that we have to try and find,” Porter said. “And currently if we have a situation like that we have to call other counties in for assistance trying to locate them.”

The closest K9 like the one Porter is lined up to receive is in Pike County.