BY: Katherine Futch
Cpl. Mark Storey has been with the Coweta County Sheriff's Office for 30 years. For 16 of those years, he has been a part of the K-9 unit as an instructor.
On July 19, Storey facilitated locker searches with the dogs. This exercise, located at East Coweta High School, was especially important to complete before school returns in August.
The Coweta County K-9 unit typically has five dogs. However, they currently have four and are awaiting the arrival of another. The dogs usually remain on the force for 7-9 years.
However, each dog’s physicality is taken into account when determining how long they work. When they begin to show signs of slowing down, or if they are injured and do not make a full recovery, retirement is the best option for the dog.
“We try to work it out to where the dogs will have a quality of life when they retire,” said Storey. “But really, the dog’s biggest quality of life is when they are active in the force. When my dog sees me get ready for work, he’s ready and excited to go with me.”
The dog’s initial training is 5-10 weeks, but this can vary depending on the dog’s response. During this training period, their future handler will stay with the dog. The handler receives guidance from the instructors.
The K-9 training program is intense and, at times, frustrating. But persistence is key; every dog learns through repetition and association through their handler.
After the initial training, the dog is ready to join the unit. However, training will continue throughout their career. The Coweta K-9 Unit does maintenance training exercises multiple times a month. These training exercises must last a minimum of 16 hours a month.
The officers planted the lockers before the dogs were inside the building. The first dog to run through the exercise was Marc, a 5-year-old Belgian malinois. As soon as he entered the hallway, he pulled his handler, Deputy Dalton Anderson, towards the planted locker.
When he arrived at the locker, he signaled to Anderson that he found the plant by immediately sitting and looking at his handler. Anderson rewarded Marc with his favorite toy and a multitude of belly rubs and congratulations.
After Marc played with his toy, he lept into Anderson’s arms. “He’s just a big baby,” said Anderson.
Rex, a Dutch shepherd, ran through the same exercise. He also passed with flying colors. Rex’s handler, Deputy Trent Hastings, said he’s the best partner to have.
“He never complains about what radio station is on, what drive-thru we go to. He is always ready and happy to help," Hastings said.
Storey’s dog, Justice, is a yellow lab. He is 9-years-old, and the oldest dog on the force. Because of his age and personality, Justice sticks to narcotics and avoids tracking.
If the canine’s handler is at work, so is the dog, unless a medical condition prevents him from doing so. There is always a dog on duty or on call. Storey said that it is uncommon for a dog to go unused when on duty.
They are required to do something every day they have a shift. If they don’t receive a call, it is the handler’s responsibility to run an exercise with them. At the end of the day, the handler turns in a form stating what they worked on, what can be improved and what went well.
When it comes time for a dog to retire from the force, it can be difficult for the dog. However, they quickly adapt to their new lifestyle. “A dog’s natural instinct is to follow,” said Storey. “So, we treat them well and show them that this is a good thing for them. That’s how they enjoy their retirement.”
Marc signals his handler, Deputy Dalton Anderson, that he found narcotics during a simulated locker search. Rex receives many belly rubs and his favorite toy from his handler Deputy Trent Hastings after a long day of training. Justice is rewarded by his handler, Cpl. Mark Storey, after completing a narcotics suitcase search.