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home : current news : current news October 21, 2018

1/16/2018 1:25:00 PM
K9-unit handlers committed to their dogs
Deputy Bartness and Masa. The partnership between officer and dog is a close one. photo provided
+ click to enlarge
Deputy Bartness and Masa. The partnership between officer and dog is a close one. photo provided

By Jodi Schneider McNamee

They are loyal and committed officers of a police force. They are highly trained, intelligent, and truly dedicated. They are the four-legged officers of the K-9 unit, and whether they are searching for missing children or sniffing out suspicious packages, they are part of a long-lived tradition that extends back thousands of years.

The Deschutes County Sheriff's Office has four K-9 teams that are assigned to the patrol division. There are three tracking and apprehension teams and one narcotics detection team. K-9 teams are on call 24 hours a day.

The dogs have been trained extensively overseas, imported, and then hand-selected by the Deschutes County Sheriff's Office.

Lieutenant Mike Biondi, a 24-year veteran with DCSO, heads up the K-9 unit.

"Our dogs are from Europe," Biondi told The Nugget. "They're bred there for police work."

Each new dog goes through months of training before he is ready to be sent over here for more training by his new handler.

The deputies and their canine partners share a complex language. K-9 commands are often given in Czech or Dutch.

"It is quite a culture shock to our K-9s that come over to begin a brand-new life with people talking a different language than they are used to. Even the smells are different," Biondi said. "It's a big change for these dogs and it can take them up to a full year to get acclimated and bond with their handler. They are trying to figure out what our expectations of them are."

Typically, K-9s are hidden away from the public spotlight. Sometimes you can glimpse them in the back of their handlers' vehicles, when they are needed during trying times. Within seconds, Masa, Ezel, Brolo or Molly could be at their partner's side ready for any situation.

The role is not easy for K-9 or handler. Law enforcement K-9s have been injured, shot and killed on duty. It really takes a special individual to become a K-9 handler. It's more complex than chasing bad guys, or sniffing out narcotics. Daily training is important. Communication is essential, and bonding is everything.

And it doesn't end after 48 hours a week on the job. These hard-working K-9s live with their handlers.

Biondi had the unique experience of working and living with his own K-9 patrol dog from 2000 to 2006. Hugo, a 100-pound Czech shepherd, was always by his side.

"I spent more time with Hugo than I did anyone else, including my family," Biondi said. "We had a lot of play time and really tried to keep the interaction light and fun when we were off duty. It's a change and a big commitment because this new dog in your life affects the whole family. Your K-9 is a 24-7 commitment. I've never had a stronger bond."

As enjoyable as it is for the family to have a patrol dog around the house, it's the deputy's responsibility to make sure his dog stays sharp

On their four days off Biondi trained Hugo to keep him ready for action.

"We go with the three T's," said Biondi. "Teach, Train, Test. You show them what to do, and the training part is when they're up and running and doing well. Then the testing part comes in when you try to get them to do something incorrect to make sure they are focused and not distracted. Its a lot of time spent together."

There is also weekly training, and these training exercises involve the handlers reviewing commands with his dog. Once the four-hour training is wrapped up, it's back on the job for both the dog and his handler.

The newest and youngest patrol K-9 is Masa, an 18-month-old Czech shepherd from Slovakia. Her handler, Deputy Ben Bartness, has been with the Deschutes County Sheriff's Office for seven years.

"My priority is spending time with Masa," Bartness said. "I play, train, and relax with her every day. Relaxing consists of loving on her, brushing her, petting her, and just hanging out. Masa was friendly and social from the very beginning. When I picked her up from the kennel, she put her paw through the fencing for me to pet her.

"Masa's playful, loving, and affectionate. But when it's time to work, she is very strong, focused, controlled, and confident. She loves her job."

Masa is slowly building bonds with her handler's family: his wife, Alyson; his daughter; 12-year-old chihuahua; and 7-year-old doberman.

"I hope to continue to build the strong bond we already share," said Bartness.

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