TERRE HAUTE —
A small Parke County town is hoping to protect its community by adding a new officer to the police department.
A 16-month-old German Shepherd named Jax is now training with Montezuma Police Chief Gerald Allee to start the department’s K-9 program.
“He’s awesome,” Allee said of Jax, who in the first week of training has shown aptitude for tracking and trailing, as well as drug interdiction. “He’s already well above where he should be.”
The only obstacle for Allee to overcome — something that Jax’s keen sense of smell can’t track yet — is the $5,000 purchase cost for the canine.
Jax is being trained at VonBernd Training Center, owned by master trainer John Holcomb, located south of Bellmore on Indiana 59.
Allee, who recently took the job as Montezuma police chief, has received permission from the town council to seek funding for the canine officer. That means a lot of benefit bake sales, spaghetti suppers and other fundraisers need to be set up, Allee acknowledged.
The Montezuma Police Department is as small as its community. Only two full-time police officers patrol the town of about 1,000 residents, with the assistance of six reserve officers.
While $5,000 seems like a large price tag for Jax — an energetic, bright-eyed black and tan canine — the cost is significantly less than the average $12,000 to $15,000 cost from a larger kennel.
However, there will be ongoing costs for Jax, such as insurance, veterinary bills, a kennel, crate, harnesses and leads, and of course, dog food.
Even with those costs, Jax is more economical for the town pay-wise than hiring a human officer. And Jax will have an 8- to 10-year career as a police dog.
“We are a two-man department,” Allee said of the town’s police force. “With the nearest police backup usually being 15 to 20 minutes away, having a canine partner is a great asset.”
In addition to drug interdiction Jax is being trained to track suspects or lost citizens. Allee said the small department has had a couple of incidents in which suspects bailed out of vehicles and fled the scene, evading capture. Having an officer that can track suspects will help in such situations.
And “it only takes one time for a child to wander off and get lost before a community realizes the benefit of having a trained canine,” he said.
A Parke County native, Allee worked for the town police department for a year and a half as a reserve officer before he was hired to be chief. He is a U.S. Marine Corps veteran and has lived at Montezuma for four years.
Allee credits VonBernd trainer Holcomb with making the canine training possible. Holcomb has trained dogs since 1976 during his years of policing near Chicago. He has since trained five dogs for the Chicago Transit Authority, as well as for the Rockville and Attica police departments, and a Kentucky agency.
He has also trained personal protection dogs for clients in Pennsylvania, Massachusetts and Nebraska, and even trained a canine to assist a bed and breakfast owner in Florida who wanted to be more secure on the job.
This past week, Allee trained with Jax inside the Bellmore Fire Station, where Holcomb set up a box containing marijuana among other decoy boxes. Once Allee set Jax on his mission, the dog eagerly sniffed each box until he began pawing at the one containing the drugs.
Actually, Jax was searching for his favorite toy, which Holcomb had placed with the bag of marijuana. But by placing the toy with the drugs, Jax will associate finding the drugs with the reward of playing with his toy.
“Drug dogs have to have the toy drive,” Holcomb explained. “And, you have to make it like the best day ever when they find the toy.”
Allee lavished praise on Jax after he correctly identified the drugs during training.
For now, they are just practicing on marijuana. But future training will include cocaine, heroin and methamphetamine.
Holcomb, Allee and Jax also train at Raccoon State Recreation Area, where Holcomb walked a trail through a meadow and along the trees before sitting behind some brush out of sight of Jax.
Using a long lead, Allee set Jax onto the scent of Holcomb, and the eager canine followed the trail with little distraction until he found his trainer, holding his favorite toy.
Allee said that the training is also beneficial to him. He must learn to read the signals that Jax indicates, and he must know how to handle the dog well. Having the VonBernd kennel located within Parke County makes the ongoing training easier, he said.
“As for training, I don’t have to be away from my department for an extended period of time. I can go on my time off,” Allee said.
Usually, officers must travel to a training center and be away from their department for eight to 10 weeks for canine training, Holcomb said.
Allee said he is ready for fundraising to begin for the purchase of Jax. It will take $2,500 before Jax can go home with Allee and be introduced to his family, with the remaining $2,500 to follow.
• To donate to the Montezuma Police canine fund, contact the department at 765-245-2590 or the town utility department at 765-245-2759.
Reporter Lisa Trigg can be reached at 812-231-4254 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @TribStarLisa.