AMAZING HOUNDS: Brevard County Sheriff’s K-9 Units Are Law Enforcement’s ‘Right Paw’
By Maria Sonnenberg // August 8, 2016
Perform Critical Duties For Community Safety
BREVARD COUNTY, FLORIDA – When the going gets tough, Brevard’s toughest and finest turn to their BFFs, their best furry friends, also known as K-9 units.
The pack of amazing hounds of the Brevard County Sheriff’s Office does not draw much attention to themselves, but the jobs they perform are critical to the safety of our community.
Hardworking and with hearts of gold, the Sheriff’s K-9 units are law enforcement’s right paw, offering considerable muscle – and teeth – when felons threaten. Their outstanding sense of smell can also sniff out drugs and bombs and track a missing child for miles.
The Sheriff’s Office counts on three highly trained K-9 units. Arguably the most visible of the three is the patrol unit, the 13 German Shepherds and Belgian Malinois that support road patrols.
“They search for suspects and help us apprehend them,” said unit supervisor Sargent Jason Knepp. “Their noses can help us locate a suspect faster than 10 deputies.”
They also do more, for the dogs are often tasked to track missing persons and some of them have specialized training in narcotics and bomb detection.
Continuing Sniffing Units
At busy Port Canaveral, the Sheriff’s five-dog Explosive Ordnance Detection unit of canines is under the supervision of Corporal Jerry Shealy. Labrador retrievers, German shorthair pointers and Belgian Malinois comprise this unit of dogs trained to detect explosives.
The dogs belong to Homeland Security’s TSA Program and are initially trained at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas, but training never ends for these sniffing canines that almost daily receive “CSUs,” or continuing sniffing units, to stay on top of the smell game.
The Port dogs are one of a kind, for although these bomb sniffers are part of the TSA staff at airports, their presence is rare at ports. Port Canaveral poses a particular challenge, since not only is it one of the busiest cruise ship ports in the world, but it is also one of those rare birds, an open port that allows free access to anyone in the community.
The dogs and their handlers work hard, 12-hour shifts spent sweeping for possible bombs on the docks, terminals and parking lots before a ship comes in, and making sure no passenger is unloading or loading explosives.
“We have at least two ships in port five days a week and as many as five on weekends,” said Shealy. “The dogs are here to protect the passengers.”
As the Port grows later this year, so will its K-9 unit, for now the teams work 12-hour shifts.
“It’s non-stop and a huge undertaking,” said Shealy.
Don’t worry about the dogs, though, for they get plenty of breaks in air-conditioned comfort, eat extremely well, enjoy the best veterinary care and repair to their handler’s homes after the work day is done.
Retirement for the dogs arrives when their handlers know they’re slowing down. For some, like Deputy Robert Aoun’s seven-year-old Labrador, Cargo, retirement may never come.
“He still acts like he’s two,” said Shealy.
When he does retire, Cargo has his golden years covered with Aoun’s family. Shealy will take care of his own dog, German shorthair pointer Shila, while Deputy Donald Eri has big retirement plans for his dog, Rino, as does Deputy Brian Fritz for his canine, Hope. Ditto for Deputy Brian Sheaffer for his Belgian Malinois, Stiles.
The dogs work hard, but they love what they do. Shila, for example, can’t get enough of it.
“She’ll wake me up even when we’re off duty,” said Shealy. “The dogs love going to work more than we do.”
Valuable Law Enforcement Officer
The Republican National Convention requested 75 K-9 bomb units from TSA to keep delegates safe. Three of the Brevard teams answered the call.
Shealy, along with Sheaffer and Stiles and Aoun and Cargo, traveled to Cleveland to put in 14-hour days. For the deputies, the payback was the opportunity to meet vice presidential candidate Mike Pence. For the dogs, it was the chance to sniff out wonderful new scents.
At the Brevard County correctional facility in Sharpes the dogs that rule the roost are eight bloodhounds, although this unit also includes two German Shepherd narcotics canines and two Labrador cadaver canines.
Like the Port dogs, the jail dogs are unique, for not many of these types of K-9 units exist in the state. The bloodhounds will track until they drop, so handlers have to make sure the dogs don’t overexert themselves in their enthusiasm to follow a scent.
“They can follow a scent from anything the person has touched, even a school seat,” said unit supervisor Sergeant Christopher Wood.
“The bloodhounds will run with that scent until they die. They’ll track to the end.”
The dogs are treated like any valuable law enforcement officer, and begin their association with the department as deputies. Wood’s own dog, cadaver canine Sherlock, retired at 11 to Wood’s house as a sergeant.
While larger Brevard municipalities, from Titusville to Palm Bay, count on their very own K-9 officers, many of these units are single dog, so the Sheriff’s canines are often asked to chip in and help. Smaller towns with no K-9 units, such as Melbourne Village and Melbourne Beach, also tap onto the dogs for their assistance.
“We get thousands of requests,” said Knepp.
While German Shepherds and Labradors may have as sensitive a nose as the bloodhounds, they don’t have the stamina of their long-eared brethren. The boys do better than the girls with scent work, as well as with the patrol units, primarily because the females tend to become overprotective of their handlers.
The dogs have been bred for the job through highly selective breeding programs.
“Our patrol dogs come from European bloodlines because they make better working dogs,” explained Knepp.
Such blue blood doesn’t come cheap. The dogs can cost $9,000 to start, and that doesn’t include the continuous training and upkeep.
They’re worth it, though, for they help deter crime and keep order, track fleeing suspects, offer support on the delivery of warrants and high-risk arrests, search for narcotics, explosives and missing persons and assist in the control of crowds.
Considering their versatility, these dogs are quite a bargain. The Brevard K-9 units have repeatedly won recognition for their outstanding work from state and national organizations.
“We have the best K-9 units,” said Corporal Dave Jacobs, public information officer for the Sheriff’s Office.
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