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2 new K9s, handlers at Columbia County Sheriff's Office
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2 new K9s, handlers at Columbia County Sheriff's Office

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It didn’t take long for a German shepherd named Artus to make a difference in the Columbia County Sheriff’s Office.

On his first day with Deputy Derek Jesko, Artus tracked the scent of three juvenile burglary suspects in Friesland to another residence four blocks away, leading to their arrests Feb. 13.

“He’s just full of energy and wants to work,” Jesko said. “He’s like me.”

Jesko and Deputy Travis Lange — who is paired with a German shepherd named Jax — completed their five-week K9 Handler Training over the weekend of Feb. 8 at Jessiffany Kennels in Iron Ridge. Their certifications bring the department’s total number of K9 units to three out of 28 uniformed deputies.

“It’s been a long time since we’ve had three K9 units and we’re very excited about that,” Sheriff Roger Brandner said.

His department had only one K9 unit after Deputy Greg Kaschinske and his K9 Recon retired in May 2019, Brandner said. The other active K9 unit is Deputy Jordan Haueter and his German shepherd, Mattis. They’re each assigned to different shifts, meaning at least one K9 is working at all times except for days off.

“There are so many things they do,” Brandner said of K9 units. “Most people think about their drug-scent work, but it’s good to have a dog out there when someone wanders off, such as an autistic child or someone who’s suffering from dementia. They’re so important to us.”

Brandner said K9s assist in evidence searches, too, like when a suspect discards drugs or a weapon while they’re trying to get away from law enforcement. K9s will also clear a building when the department gets a burglary call and they’re trained to help a deputy who’s being attacked.

All three of the deputies have taken on the full responsibility of being pet owners, bringing the K9s into their respective families.

Jesko, for example, is married with three young children including a 3-year-old who wants to pet Artus “all the time” and says “goodnight” to him at the end of every day, he said.

“When we’re not working, he loves to play,” Jesko said of Artus. “He wants to constantly go. He has that drive that makes me want to be a better handler and support him what he wants to do.”

Lange said in an email that accepting his role as a K9 handler “was one of the best decisions I have ever made career-wise” and that he sees the responsibility as a means to improve himself as an officer and improve his department.

“I grow more excited each day that I have Jax as my partner,” Lange said. “I know that Jax will have my back and be willing to protect me no matter what the scenario is. I know that others in the department will feel safer knowing that they have Jax watching over them as well.”

K9s and their handlers continue to certify yearly and the process is rigorous, Haueter said in an email. They train a minimum of 16 hours per month in order to maintain optimal skills.

“Animals speak a universal language,” Haueter said. “They protect us, they serve us, and they support in time of need. It is imperative that the bond between the K9 and handler is unbreakable.”

Hauter said the biggest impact of K9s is in the war on drugs. “If we can save one family from getting a call that their loved one has overdosed or been killed by an altered driver, the training, the dog, has all been worth it.”

Lange, Jesko, Haueter and Brandner each pointed out that Columbia County wouldn’t have K9 units without support from the community. Brandner said the department typically raises between $15,000 and $17,000 during annual golf outings to cover its costs for K9 units.

“The community has seriously contributed enough money to fund all three teams,” Brandner said. “That includes special equipment for the squad car, extensive training and a dog that costs between $12,000 and $15,000. It’s all very expensive and we don’t use any taxpayer money for it.

“It’s so important that we recognize the community because we’re so grateful to them. We’re overwhelmed with all the support.”

Follow Noah Vernau on Twitter @NoahVernau or contact him at 608-695-4956.

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