By Katie Anderson
Photos by Celeste Van Kirk
It’s been a while since Greene County had a dog in uniform. Soon, the county will have three – a tracking dog with the sheriff’s department, and two narcotics dogs – one with Waynesburg Borough and one with Cumberland Township.
Dagen, an 8-year-old German shepherd, has been with the Greene County Sheriff’s department for years. He belonged to the late Sheriff Brian Tennant. They worked as a unit in the Waynesburg police department, before Tennant became sheriff in 2013.
When Tennant’s health started declining, Dagen didn’t get as much time in the office or training. In December, Tennant decided Sgt. Amanda Stauffer of Washington Township was the right person to take over as Dagen’s handler.
“I had told them during my initial interview that my life goal was to be a K9 officer,” Stauffer says. “I’ve always been around dogs and interested in the training aspect. Brian’s health went downhill and he said it was a good time for me to take him.”
Stauffer started bonding and training with Dagen, and they’ve recently been certified in tracking and narcotics. So far, they’ve made a great team.
“He’s obsessed with me,” Stauffer says. “When he sees me putting on this uniform, he gets excited because he knows we’re going to work. He’s like a pup again. As soon as he sees that vest, he’s ready to work.”
The tracking certification trains dogs to find missing items or people. When he completes his task or finds what he was looking for, Dagen gets his toy ball as a reward.
“He’ll immediately look up for that ball,” Stauffer says. “He needs that ball right away.”
Stauffer says she also has an 8-month-old German shepherd named Draco, whom she plans to train. Draco, so far, is more driven by tasty treats, rather than toys. She says she’ll be lucky to get another two working years from Dagen. By the time he retires, she wants Draco to be certified and ready to take over.
“I would like to do K9 work as well as possible,” Stauffer said. “I’d like to be that asset for the county.”
Cumberland Township officials also found an asset in having a K9 officer, when they approved Finn’s “employment” in May.
“They were very receptive of it,” says Finn’s handler, Officer Ryan McIntyre with Cumberland Township police.
McIntyre has been a patrol officer with the department since August. He says last month that the department still needed to make some adjustments to the K9 vehicle and get Finn a bullet-resistive vest before he’ll be “on the road and ready to work.”
McIntyre says that he and Finn, a 2-year-old Belgian Malinois from Netherlands, were certified as a narcotics K9 unit last month. He says having Finn in the car with him on calls is “almost like having another officer there.” Since Finn is trained in handler protection, McIntyre knows Finn has his “six.”
“He’s a super-friendly dog,” McIntyre says. “He gets really excited if I have my uniform on because he thinks we’re either going to work or do some training or something.”
Finn and McIntyre participate in quarterly and weekly trainings with other dogs and handlers, but the try to train together every day. McIntyre will hide towels with scents on them, which Finn will have to sniff out. When Finn discovers the hidden items, he gets to play with his tug-of-war toy.
It’s training the entire community will benefit from, once Finn starts making some drug discoveries.
“There’s a lot of drug issues in our community – methamphetamine more than anything,” McIntyre says. “And those drugs bring other crimes to the area.”
Sniffing out drugs is also Luda’s forte. He’s a 16-month old German shepherd, whose handler, Adam Fichter, is a patrol officer with Waynesburg Borough police.
Luda’s first day on the job was April 13, when he made two arrests. He made six arrests in his first week, Fichter says.
“I could tell Waynesburg had a problem with narcotics,” Fichter says.
Luda’s run some search warrants, but primarily, he’s used on suspicious traffic stops. He sniffs out cars and alerts to any types of narcotics that may be hidden inside.
“He loves riding in the car,” Fichter says. “When that collar goes on, he knows he’s going to work. He loves what he does, because for him, work is fun.”
Luda is currently working on tracking and patrol certifications as well, Fichter says. They do some type of training every day, but beyond that, they’re really good buddies. Outside of his training and his job, Luda is a typical dog who loves to play and loves the Dunkin’ Donuts drive- thru, where he usually receives his favorite treat, Munchkins.
“I don’t know what I’d do without him,” Fichter says. “I don’t know how I could be in a car without him.”
Fichter is looking forward to working with the other K9 units in the county. “We’re all a team with one goal – to preserve good life inside this county,” he says. “It’s about how we can help each other reach that point.”