Police dogs play important role for western Wisconsin law enforcement

Posted November 30, 2016

K-9 police dogs have become a crucial part of many law enforcement departments in western Wisconsin, so the loss of one is more than just costly.

The Pierce County Sheriff’s Department was without a K-9 dog for more than a year, but thanks to a donation now has a new four-legged officer. The department’s last dog, Viper, died in August 2015 of complications from surgery.

When a department doesn’t have a K-9 dog, it is more difficult to do searches and assist officers with day-to-day work.

Osceola Police Officer Josh Morgel and K-9 Riko

Osceola Police Officer Josh Morgel and K-9 Riko. (Photo by Lisa Erickson)

“There isn’t one thing the dogs are trained to, but there are several very important things, like people searches, drugs and protecting the handler,” Pierce County Sheriff Nancy Hove said in a telephone interview.

Because of the cost associated with K-9 dogs, many police departments rely on donations and help from outside sources.

Hove said she was very surprised when pet food company Ralston Purina donated $10,000 toward the purchase and training of a new dog. Buying a dog and training it can cost upward of $20,000, but the department already had a K-9 vehicle and that saved the county some money.

“Our K-9 handler finished training the day before Thanksgiving and is now working,” Hove said.

The Hudson Police Department K-9 unit operates on donated funds from local businesses, donations from private citizens, and grants, according to its website.

Dogs for Law Enforcement (DLE) has been assisting many police departments with funds across the U.S., according to the Texas-based nonprofit organization’s website. DLE’s mission is to raise donations to assist police departments in purchasing dogs or replacing fallen canines, as well as providing assistance through training or publications in current or new techniques to better protect K-9 teams, schools and communities.

Dogs have been used by law enforcement agencies for more than 100 years.

In the 1970s the use of dogs in law enforcement took a foothold in the United States, according to DLE’s website. Many K-9 dogs are considered a part of the police force and are referred to as an officer. Some departments give the K-9 dogs badges to wear.

K-9 dogs, training and the time commitment are expensive.

“Riko and Josh are a great team together and represent our community well. They have placed very high in regional competetions,” said Ron Pedrys, chief of police in Osceola, Wisconsin. K-9 Unit Officer Josh Morgel and his K-9 partner Riko have been working together for more than three years. On average, Morgel and Riko train 15-20 hours per month.

“Training is very important. It is something we need to work on all the time. It’s the same with dogs. If you don’t use it, you lose it,” said Morgel.

Morgel and other K-9 handlers from western Wisconsin train their dogs in Osceola at a specialized outdoor training area. The dogs are put through a course that simulates situations similar to what they might encounter in the field, like jumping over fences and climbing though tunnels. Many officers meet to train there, said Morgel.

“Morgel is compensated for the time he spends training Riko,” said Pedrys.

Other law enforcement agencies in Wisconsin are developing partnerships to help raise funds for K-9 police dogs. The Marathon County Sheriff’s Department estimates the average cost to purchase, train and care for a dog is around $25,000 over seven years, according to a press release.

“Riko is a purebred German shepherd,” Morgel said. Having Riko around makes Morgel feel safer when he is on patrol alone. Plus, Riko can do things people can’t, he added.

Many law enforcement departments choose German shepherds. The German shepherd breed originated in Germany. They are often the dog of choice by many law enforcement agencies because of their strength, intelligence, teachability and obedience. German shepherds also have a good sense of smell in the detection of narcotics and explosives. They are also used in the tracking and apprehension of human suspects, according to DLE’s website.

Both the the Osceola police and the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department wanted dogs that were community friendly.

“I chose the German shepherd because it is good at what is does, but is also friendly enough to bring to a kindergarten class,” said Hove.

Many K-9 dogs come from eastern Europe to western Wisconsin, Hove said. She goes through a specific trainer and the trainer gets the dogs for her from a certain breeder. It’s easier that way, added Hove.

According to the Hudson Police Department website, its K-9 dog, Brisco, came from the Czech Republic. Brisco is a mix between a German shepherd and a Belgian malinois. In northwestern Wisconsin, Rice Lake’s K-9 dog is from Poland and Osceola’s K-9 Riko is from the Czech Republic, too.

The number of police K-9 teams injured or killed in the line of duty is steadily on the rise. Since January 2013, more than 40 canines or handlers have been injured or killed in the United States.

K-9 teams provide a vital role in law enforcement and to communities. A K-9 handler’s job requires the dogs to be deployed in some of the riskiest situations, yet most departments do not financially support these teams to attend continuous training, according to DLE’s website.

“We are very lucky to have a K-9 unit in a small town,” said Morgel.

To donate to help support K-9 dogs and their handlers, contact DLE at www.dogsforlawenforcement.org or call a local law enforcement agency for more information.