PORT ORCHARD — While the gloomy skies might have kept attendance numbers lower than expected, Kitsap County Sheriff’s Office deputies and staff members welcomed members of the public to the agency’s open house Sept. 14 outside its headquarters in Port Orchard.
Visitors were escorted inside the sheriff’s office headquarters next to the Kitsap County Jail and the county courthouse on Division Street for tours and presentations. But outside, a four-legged showstopper kept the crowd entertained while providing an educational demonstration about one of law enforcement’s more underappreciated tools — its K-9 unit, including a deputy and a canine.
The star of the open house undoubtedly was 2-year-old Blue, a home-grown and trained “officer” of the sheriff’s office K-9 unit.
Blue, who is always ready to put on a show for visitors at a moment’s notice, demonstrated how he has been trained to pursue suspects on the lam. Deputy Nolan Williams of the K-9 unit got the Shepard into his crouching stance, then sent him off to track down the “suspect” — in this case, Lt. Earl Smith of the sheriff’s office.
With his toenails gripping the asphalt and his foot pads barely skimming the ground, Blue quickly grabbed Smith’s padded arm and held him in his grip. It’s a procedure that has worked out well for the K-9 dog, who has 22 “captures” since joining the force in April, Smith said.
“That’s huge,” he said at the open house event. “We bred and raised Blue here locally, and also trained him.”
Blue is one of two K-9s working for the department. He’s the younger of the pair — Heiko, who recently caught a prolific burglar in Poulsbo, is 10 1/2 years old and will soon be retiring.
In that pursuit, Heiko was sent to retrieve the suspect after a drone flown by the sheriff’s office spotted the man in the act of burglarizing a Poulsbo business. Heiko found him hiding in the bushes after the suspect wouldn’t come out after deputies called for him.
“It takes us a long time to get the dog trained,” Smith said. “It doesn’t just happen overnight.”
He said the Bremerton Police Department just purchased a K-9 dog from Romania.
Some of the dogs in training “wash out,” he said. “We had one we raised that just didn’t have the temperament we wanted.”
Raising funds for K-9
Smith said the sheriff’s office is working with the Peninsula Dog Fanciers Club to raise $5,000 for the K-9 unit and a possible Heiko replacement. When the sheriff’s office raises that amount, the club will match the $5,000. With a combined $10,000, the American Kennel Club (AKC)’s ReUnite K9 Grant program will provide up to $5,000 additionally for the county’s K-9 program.
Not surprisingly, K-9 unit dogs are expensive to buy. Smith said the sheriff’s office typically pays around $10,000 for a dog that meets the K-9 training profile. The money spent on buying a dog usually does not include training.
“While sometimes we can get a dog that is already trained, it always needs to be trained to work with the handler,” Smith said. “We appreciate the work that they’re [Peninsula Dog Fanciers Club] doing for us.”
The sheriff’s office K-9 team members are a valuable and often underappreciated tool of the department, he said. Their work often results in save lives — victims, suspects and deputies alike.
“This is the only tool in law enforcement that we have that we can call back,” Smith said. “If I fire my gun, I can’t call that bullet back. If the guy all of a sudden gives up, we can call that dog back.