Area agencies anxiously await certification of new police dogs

PIERRE -- Two area law enforcement agencies are hoping streets in their jurisdiction are about to get a whole lot safer. As a six-week K-9 certification training course passes the midway point, the Chamberlain Police Department and Jerauld County...

Chamberlain Police Officer Garrett Harmon is pictured with the department's soon-to-be-certified police dog, Igor, a 10-month-old Belgian Malinois from the Netherlands. (Photo courtesy of the Chamberlain Police Department)

PIERRE - Two area law enforcement agencies are hoping streets in their jurisdiction are about to get a whole lot safer.

As a six-week K-9 certification training course passes the midway point, the Chamberlain Police Department and Jerauld County Sheriff's Office are beginning to get anxious awaiting the arrival of their newest four-legged deputies.

For Chamberlain, the addition of 10-month-old Igor, a Belgian Malinois from the Netherlands, will help continue the work of the department's former police dog, Arres, who died unexpectedly in Nov. 2016 due to a rare internal complication. The German shepherd worked with the police department for three years, helping to remove more than $100,000 worth of drugs from Chamberlain streets, according to Chamberlain Police Chief Joe Hutmacher.

"We were looking for another tool to help combat illegal drugs on the streets, and not only keep them off but act as a deterrent for people who want to bring them in," Hutmacher said. "Chamberlain is a busy area, and is a hub of activity that a lot of times includes good things and a lot of things that aren't so good, like drug trafficking, just like any town with so many satellite communities."

In Igor, the Chamberlain Police Department will have both a drug detection and a drug apprehension dog - a double-edged sword the department did not have in its former dog, who was only certified in detection. The average service life of a police dog is between eight and 12 years, Hutmacher said.


Having Igor double-certified will be an "added bonus" for the Brule County town working to curb the use and influx of drugs, Hutmacher said.

Igor will operate like a full-time officer for the department, logging 40 hours each week, alongside his handler Garrett Harmon. And, like any officer, Igor will be on-call much of the time, so if a situation would develop in which an officer would require the assistance of a K-9 detection or apprehension, Igor would be summoned to the scene, Hutmacher said.

"When the officer goes to work, Igor goes to work and works a 12-hour shift right along with him," Hutmacher said. "Wherever Garrett goes, Igor goes."

And, for another two weeks, the pair will remain in Pierre, where they are undergoing extensive training to certify Igor as a police dog and Harmon as his handler. The six-week course will conclude Feb. 17.

Prior to becoming certified, both Igor and Harmon will be required to take and pass a test and, if either of them fails, a retake is possible. Then, the pair has to be recertified annually.

"Dogs are like people. I'm sure you don't want to work on a Monday and sometimes dogs don't want to work 100 percent either," Harmon said. "If you catch a dog on a bad day, which is rare, wait a few days and do it again. But Igor and I get along pretty well."

Harmon, who was also the Chamberlain department's former K-9 handler, said there are six dogs in he and Igor's certification class, including Jerauld County Deputy Paul Sheldon and his dog, also a Belgian Malinois, named Mack.

Jerauld County Sheriff Jason Weber said Mack has already shown improvement from the past dog, who had obedience issues that "caused a lack in performance."


Mack, though, is mild-mannered and Weber's hopes for the dog are high. Mack, like Igor, will be double-certified as both a detection and apprehension dog.

"Initially, I had a hard time with an apprehension dog, but after having a demo put on for me and several community members, I was convinced this was the route to go. I thought the apprehension dogs had to be mean but it's the complete opposite - they are very friendly," Weber said. "And Sheldon is very ambitious so getting use of the investment won't be an issue."

Having a fellow officer from the immediate area at the training has been nice, Harmon said, and has made the process less stressful.

But, ultimately, Harmon said the officers are excited to get to work. And "getting to work" includes building a relationship with the pup that far transcends the office.

"It's more we work our schedule and vacations around what the dogs can do," Harmon joked. "We go on family trips, they go too, we take them home with us, they go to work with us. But I really enjoy it - it's a relationship like no other."


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