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K-9 Hope ready to protect and serve

August 07, 2013
Dog is a man's best friend. That saying has never been more true than it is today. Throughout history, there are plenty of instances where canines have teamed up with their human counterparts in order to make history and solve insurmountable problems.

Hope, a 3-year-old bloodhound, is the newest member of the Milltown Police Department and has already proven herself an integral part of the agency. Photo Courtesy of the Milltown Police Department
Just look at Shaggy and Scooby-Doo. One of crime-fighting's most well-known duos.

While Shaggy and Scooby are only fictional cartoons, there are some real crime-stopping heroes in Crawford and the surrounding counties.

To find them, look no further than the your state and local police departments because this year the Milltown Police Department has something to smile about.

The MPD's K-9 program is growing thanks to the addition of Hope, a 3-year-old bloodhound, and her handler, Sgt. James Yeager, a volunteer reserve officer.

In her first few weeks of service, Hope has already helped to find one lost child and, on July 18, one of the largest marijuana growing operations this year, thanks to her superb tracking skills.

Hope has been training for three years, since she was a puppy, in order to manage obedience and hone her tracking skills. This year, Hope competed training with Georgetown Police Chief and certified American Police Workdog trainer Dennis Kunkel.

"Indiana does not require certifications," Milltown Police Chief Ray Saylor said. "They just stipulate that the dogs must be well trained; however, we make sure our dogs have the proper certifications, even though it isn't required."

Saylor knows a lot about dog handling. He's worked with the K-9 program for 15 years, and, in that time, he's had five partners. His current partner is a 2-1/2-year-old Belgian Malinois named Zico (zee-co).

Both Zico and Hope are registered as American Police Workdogs.

"Denny did a great job with Hope," Yeager said. "And it helps to have someone you can call if you have a question."

Saylor said the MPD K-9 program is unique "because we are funded solely through donations and grants. Jamie paid for Hope's training and is a volunteer."

He added that the MPD often is called to neighboring counties to supplement search efforts.

Choosing the right dog is very important.

"We knew we wanted a tracker," Saylor said.

Zico is considered a multi-purpose dog, which means he can do a myriad of tasks, but he specializes in drug detection. Saylor and Yeager wanted to add a canine that would complement Zico and be able to share in the workload.

K-9 officers and their handlers are able to create safer environments by saving time and creating less confusion during routine situations like traffic stops, Saylor said.

"A lot of times if we suspect drugs or if I'm called in on a routine traffic stop, I can just walk Zico around the car," he said. "Many times they just go ahead and tell you where it is when they see the dog, and it deflates a potentially dangerous situation."

Yeager said there is more than just the business of police work to look at when choosing the right dog.

"We also looked at family," Yeager said. "Because our dogs live with us and are a part of our family, we have to take that into consideration. And I have small children."

He said a bloodhound has the patience to deal with his young children and will still be able to do the job appointed to it.

While Hope has obtained her certification, she doesn't get to be a lazy-bones and sleep all day while she's waiting for a job.

"We train constantly," Yeager said. "We are always working on tracking and seeking and finding and commands. If she doesn't use (her nose), then her skills won't stay sharp."

While Hope and Zico work every day to stay sharp, there is only so much preparation they can do, and sometimes circumstances dictate how they will react to a situation.

"The danger is very real," Saylor said.

Many remember Kilo, the Indiana State Police K-9 who was fatally wounded on June 24, during a hostage situation in Sellersburg.

When members of the Sellersburg Police Department attempted to serve a mental inquest warrant on a subject, the subject took his two children hostage at gunpoint.

Members of the Indiana State Police SWAT team, along with Deputy K-9 Kilo, responded to the scene. When officers entered the home, the suspect began firing blindly, and Kilo was killed despite wearing body armor.

A Clark County sheriff's deputy was also shot in the leg during the same incident.

"Losing a canine is one of the hardest things I've had to deal with," Saylor said. "There really is nothing like it. These dogs, they have our backs."

Both Saylor and Yeager agree that many times the community doesn't understand the capabilities of their canine companions and their level of security and professionalism.

"It makes me much more comfortable when I do my job to have Zico there," Saylor said. "They have good days and they have bad days, just like people, but he's always there."

Yeager agreed.

"I would still be able to do my job without Hope," he said, "but I feel much more comfortable having her with me. We can do more together than apart."

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