BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
MONTROSE – Due to a performance issue in the dual-purpose training of the Lee County Sheriff’s new K9, a committee decided Wednesday to bring in another dog.
At a meeting Wednesday of the Lee County K9 Association, deputy Uriah Wheatley told the group’s board of directors, Alex, the German Shepherd currently in training with Wheatley, is not performing well in the apprehension model of his duties.
“It’s my understanding the mission of this organization was to get a dual purpose K9. That’s what was paid for and that’s what people donated for,” Wheatley said. “I’m new to this, but I’ve seen dogs that will bite, track, and smell dope. Alex and I went through one week and Alex is a very skiddish dog.
Wheatley told the committee that his training with Alex with respect to apprehension and defense didn’t go well. He said the dog had to be “strongly encouraged’ to be aggressive, specifically to bite in apprehension and defensive postures.
“It had to be very obvious to him he had to bite. When he finally did do the bite it wasn’t a very good bite. A horn was honked (in distraction) and released and that was it.”
Mike Barnes, a K9 handler at Iowa State Penitentiary and an advisor to the committee, was involved in training videos with Alex and Deputy Wheatley.
“Last week Mike and I took Alex up to the softball fields,” Wheatley said. “Mike came out around the corner with a bite sleeve on. Alex should know what that sleeve is and he should react and he didn’t. Mike was able to smack me across the chest and he still didn’t bite.”
Wheatley said he’s created a bond with the dog, but he knew in the back of his mind it was a possibility that he would have to be sent back.
“Alex has small potential to learn to be a dual purpose dog. It’s possible, but not probable, and to do it would take several months and when we focus on that, the dope training suffers,” Wheatley said.
“He’s a great dog. This won’t be easy for me and I’ve grown attached to him but I knew in the back of my mind this was a possibility. But he’s a member of this team and he has to be able to do his job.”
Committee member Sandy Brown asked Wheatley what made the company believe Alex was capable of being a dual-purpose dog.
Barnes said he had slights concerns with the dog when he first encountered him during a training session.
“I was part of the video on this and from the first time I saw this dog I knew there were issues here. He was skiddish. But I said this is a brand new dog, he’ll go up there for training and he’ll come back and it’ll all be good. But there’s no way I would put that dog out with an officer on the street. I just couldn’t do it.”
Lee County Sheriff Stacy Weber said the company that provided the dog is on board with exchanging the animal and has already identified an animal for the exchange.
“I don’t want the public to think we went out and bought a drug-sniffing dog because that ain’t it. If Alex can’t do the job, he gets treated like any other officer that can’t cut the mustard,” Weber said.
“We said from the beginning Alex was on a probation and he isn’t different from any other officer. If the handler wasn’t doing his job he would be sent home, too.”
Weber said the new K9 would be exchanged in the next couple of weeks. The new dog would be brought back to Wheatley for a one-week break in and bonding session. Then the new dog and Wheatley will return to training in Fort Dodge.
“It’s a hiccup, it’s a bump in the road,” Weber said.
The committee also received an update on a second K9 that is showing great promise. The department is hoping to have the dog on staff at the end of the year or early spring. That dog is in South Carolina and is about 8 months old.