The Price County Sheriff's Department has a new teammate on staff: Dixon, a highly trained two-year-old German Shepard.
Dixon arrived in Price County just this week. He is the first and only member of the department’s new K9 unit after undergoing a month of specialized training with his handler, Deputy Joe Janak.
Until now, Janak says Price County was in the minority of surrounding counties without a K9 unit, with Lincoln, Taylor, Rusk, Sawyer, Ashland, Oneida, and Vilas counties all having dogs on staff.
“K9s are becoming more and more popular in northern Wisconsin,” explained Janak, who said the dogs assist law enforcement officers in a variety of tasks, including narcotics detection and search-and-rescue events.
The Price County program got its start when a Waukesha couple with ties to northern Wisconsin volunteered to cover the costs of purchasing the dog and helping set up a unit in the county, according to Sheriff Brian Schmidt.
The launch of the program, including purchase of the dog and initial training, has cost just over $15,000 — the vast majority of which was covered by the donation from the couple, who have chosen to remain anonymous. The remainder has been covered by donations from other local individuals and the Price County Tavern League. The county has also contributed $7,500.
A bullet-proof vest and first aid kit for Dixon was provided by the Wisconsin non-profit organization Vest-A-Dog. Additionally, a special insert was installed in a Sheriff's Department squad vehicle so that Dixon can safely ride with an officer without coming in contact with anyone else who may be in the vehicle. The car has also been outfitted with safety features to prevent the dog from overheating while in the vehicle.
Recurring costs for the program will include the typical care for a dog, along with ongoing training fees and additional compensation for the dog's handler. While off-duty, Dixon lives with Deputy Janak and his family.
Thanks to a love of dogs, particularly scent hounds, the work as handler for Dixon was a perfect fit for Janak.
“Getting the drugs off the streets here in Price County has been a passion of mine, especially with the growing problem of methamphetamine,” added Janak, who has been employed by the Sheriff's Department for 16 years.
Dixon is trained in narcotics detection, tracking people, and standard patrol. The Sheriff's Department hopes to put his training to use particularly in their work to curb the flow of illegal drugs in the area, in addition to other law enforcement work. In the case of a missing person, he could be used to help potentially locate an individual.
“The narcotics detection and the tracking will be the two biggest benefits to the community,” explained Janak.
While the K9 unit will aid the department in their day-to-day tasks, the sheriff stressed that it is not the solution to all problems.
“As with all tools, there are limitations to everything,” said Schmidt. “The K9 adds a little bit of a percentage, but nothing is infallible. This gives us another tool with which we might hopefully be successful in the rescue of an individual or the recovery of any kind of illegal substances.”
It is hoped that Dixon will also aid the department with community outreach, and once he has settled into his role here in Price County, some public programming may be in the works.
In the meantime, the public will have the opportunity to meet Dixon in person at a series of fundraising events for the K9 unit coming up over the next two months.
On June 15, Dixon and Deputy Janak will make an appearance at the brat fry held outside Pick 'n Save in Phillips from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. On June 28, there will be a brat feed at the county courthouse between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. On July 12, they will travel up to Park Falls to help bag groceries at Super One between 3-6 p.m., and on July 13, there will be a brat fry outside Super One from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
All funds raised at these events will go toward the ongoing costs of the K9 unit.
People who see Dixon while out on patrol are reminded by the Sheriff's Department that he is a working dog on duty, and permission should always be requested from the handler before attempting to touch or pet the dog.
Dependent on the success of the Price County K9 unit, Schmidt said it is possible the program might be expanded to add another dog in future years.