BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
LEE COUNTY – The Lee County Sheriff’s K9 program is in it’s 4th year and Sheriff Stacy Weber said the program is still supporting itself and the dogs are becoming more integrated with daily patrols.
On Thursday morning the Fort Madison Lions Club donated $500 to the program at Iowa State Penitentiary.
The department currently has two K9 officers “Kion”, who is handled by deputy Jordan Maag, and “Gunner” who works with deputy Bryson Hennigar.
Maag has had Kion since December of 2018 and said the K9 has progressed regularly through training and is responsive to cues, and on commands.
“We’re going on three years together. I got him in December of 2018.
“He’s typically good around people, but if anyone shows aggression toward me he can get yappy, and if I command him to be aggressive he does,” Maag said.
Kion has been with the program since it began and has had two different handlers.
Gunner came into the program after “Alex”, one of the original dogs with Kion, who didn’t respond well to training and was traded out for Gunner.
Hennigar said he has a retired K9 at home already, and it took a couple days for Gunner to get used to him.
“Basically, I pulled into the garage and let him out and he sat in the corner for a while and then realized that neither of us were going to leave so he came up to me,” Hennigar said. “A couple more days of feeding him and letting him out and he warmed up.”
Weber said with the exception of the deputies time training and handling the animals, the program is privately funded through donations of funds, products, and equipment.
“All the food, the gear, vet bills are obtained or paid for through donations. The equipment behind the office was donated and built by Central Lee building trades people,” Weber said.
“Overall, it’s going okay. Both animals are healthy and productive.”
Fundraising began for the program in 2017 and the dogs were put into the field in 2018. Mostly the dogs are used for search warrants and narcotics searches, and have been used in a few tracking situations.
“They’ve done some tracking but a lot of times the time lapse between when someone has one missing and the call comes in to us, is too great for them to be effective,” Weber said.
He cited an incident last month where a child was missing in rural Lee County and the animals were dispatched to the scene, but with extensive searches already underway, the child was located prior to the K9 teams arriving on scene.
Mike Barnes an Iowa State Penitentiary handler has worked with the sheriff’s department on developing the program.
He said the dogs should get 16 hours of dog training a month, and an eight-hour training day may yield only four or five dog hours depending on the heat and other conditions. But he said now that Lee County has their own equipment training is enhanced for both agencies.
“It’s nice that Lee County has their own stuff now too, because they can come up here and use this stuff with us and we can go down there and use their’s, which provides different training for both of departments.”
Weber said ISP staff has been integral in getting the program to where it is.
“If it wasn’t for the prison – these guys have helped us get these dogs where they are today – we’d be in trouble. It’s free, we come up here on Wednesday or Thursday. These dogs get more training than we do,” Weber said.
Prior to the program, Weber said the sheriff’s department was regularly calling for an assist from ISP staff.
He said other prison K9 teams have also helped with issues in Lee County, including at the ISP.
“We borrowed almost every K9 in the state penitentiary system when Iowa State Penitentiary had some issues that needed investigated,” Weber said.
“So there is a good partnership in place with the K9 systems among state agencies.”