K-9 handlers graduate at Randolph Millholland National Guard Armory
01/25/2012
Herald-Mail - Online

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Prospective K-9 handlers have to worry about more than their own performance and grades — their canine partners also have to pass the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services K-9 unit course.

So it was a setback for Deputy 1st Class Michael Thompson when his first partner, a Belgian malinois, had to drop out.

“It was a blow to me because I fell in love with that other dog,” said Thompson, one of two Washington County sheriff's deputies to graduate Wednesday at the Randolph Millholland National Guard Armory near the correctional institutions on Roxbury Road.

Thompson credited Capt. Pete Lazich of the Washington County Sheriff's Office and Sgt. James Grimm, the supervisor of the sheriff's K-9 unit, with quickly getting him a new partner, a German shepherd named Bear.

“I graduated today. He'll graduate Monday,” Thompson said of Bear, who has to be certified next week.
Bear seemed happy as he chewed a rubber toy. But he wasn't always so good-natured, Thompson said.
It took a lot of Vienna sausages and reading nursery rhymes to both his daughter and Bear to build their bond over a period of weeks.

“That gets them used to your voice,” Thompson said of reading aloud to the dog.
The nursery rhymes were his daughter's idea, he said.

Thompson said he had been through drug-detection training with Bear and will take the patrol course in the spring.

K-9 unit commander Maj. Greg Shumake, assistant commander Capt. Mark Flynn, Lt. Chris Caudell and Sgt. Craig Blank put in extra time with him to help Bear catch up with the rest of the class, Thompson said.

Deputy 1st Class Jason Litten said he and his partner, Reiser, trained in both drug detection and patrol work, taking two courses in 2011. The sheriff's office has five K-9 teams, three that are trained for both patrol and drug detection, and two trained specifically for detecting drugs, he said.

Litten and Reiser will work patrol primarily, but will be available to assist at the Washington County Detection Center and with other police agencies when needed, he said.

Of the 11 graduates Wednesday, most are assigned to other parts of Maryland to work in state Division of Corrections institutions to keep contraband such as drugs from getting into prisons and to help control disturbances inside the walls, said Tina Stump, the director of security operations.

She credited the K-9 teams with making correctional institutions safer.

One of the corrections graduates, Sgt. Jason Ahalt, will be stationed in Washington County, spokeswoman Erin Julius said.