CPD's K-9 Unit: The dangerously cute dogs serving Columbia
COLUMBIA - Meet Kane, he's two and half and already has helped the FBI solve two major narcotics investigations, but at the end of the day he still loves a good belly rub.
Kane, a Belgian Malinois, is one of fifteen dogs that make up Columbia Police Department's K-9 Training Unit. There are four dogs currently on duty. CPD officials say it's not easy to make it onto the team.
"Not just any dog can be a police dog," said Sgt. Scott Hedrick, Columbia Police Department's K-9 Unit Head Trainer.
Hedrick said finding the right dog is a lengthy and selective process. The dogs who make the team are all certified through the state and the North American Police Work Dog Association.
CPD's K-9 Unit is trained in narcotics, area search, tracking, criminal apprehension, and building searches.
Pictured below is what's called a "reward from source wall" used to train the dogs to distinguish the smells of what the team calls "the big four," which is cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine, and marijuana.
"The dog get's a reward from the source of narcotics, explosives, or any odor we are training them to be on," said Hedrick.
Each letter and number represent a specific drug or odor, so the team can keep track of what they're testing for each dog.
"They are a working tool," Hedrick said. "And at the end of the day we might have to send them to their death to save somebody else's life."
What it takes to be a K9 Dog and a K9 Handler
Hedrick said picking dogs requires a lot of research and individual training with the dogs. Once the unit is picked out, each dog goes through an eight to 12 week training course.
There's a lot to goes into training K-9 dogs, but Hendrick said, in the beginning, the skill levels vary.
"Some dogs come trained and other dog's who aren't are called green dogs. This means they don't know their name, so you start training them from the very beginning," he said.
Hedrick also said it takes a specific type of person to be handler.
"We need to make sure the handler is someone that has the mental stability to realize this might be the day we have to end their life," he said.
Although dogs like Kane are incredibly cute, Hedrick pointed out they are on the job 24/7.
"They're not dogs who just go out and walk through dog parks, and they're not dogs who just go out and socialize with everyone else. That's the difference that most people don't understand," he said.
It's no secret these dogs work hard, but CPD handlers say it's more than hard work, it's a lifestyle.
"As K-9 guys, our relationship is different, our training is intense, our dogs have to be intense," said Chris Smith, Boone County Sheriff Department's K-9 Trainer.
Hedrick said the K9 unit has a big impact on keeping the community safe.
"There have been a countless amount of success stories. There's been lots of people taken to jail, guns seized off the street, and even people caught running from the U.S. Marshall," he said. "Even though they're cute, they are police dogs and they don't live a life of luxury eating treats all day long."