New K9 adjusting to Prairie du Chien police duties

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Prairie du Chien Police Officer Casey Cox demonstrates obedience drills with his new partner, K9 Officer Rico. Cox has been with the department for five years and stepped up in late 2015 with interest in the K9 handler position. Rico was officially sworn in on July 16. (Photos by Correne Martin)

K9 Rico is a 1.5-year-old Belgian Malinois who came to Prairie du Chien from Working K9, a Toronto, Canada, company. The typical career-span of a police K9 is seven to nine years.

Cox commanded Rico to do an area search for a set of keys in the courthouse courtyard. Within minutes of searching around the trees and grass, he detected the human odor and found them, lying down with the keys under his chest.

Rico is already demonstrating great attention to his handler, especially when Officer Cox is holding his favorite toy, a ball on a rope, during obedience training.

By Correne Martin

The Prairie du Chien Police Department’s new K-9 officer, Rico, is officially on duty. The 1.5-year-old Belgian Malinois arrived July 16, was sworn in and has been busy getting used to his new environment.

Officer Casey Cox is his partner and handler. Cox spent a week with Rico, July 9-16, in Toronto, Canada, training one-on-one with the owner of Working K-9. They worked on tracking, drug work, criminal apprehension and article and area searches. Then, they headed home to Prairie du Chien together.

“He’s still very new,” Cox said, noting that the two have done one school demonstration thus far and attended a city council meeting for introductions.

Rico lives at Cox’s home and has been treated to a fenced in yard along with a kennel and nice dog house built by Design Homes. When they’re not on duty, they spend time playing, but otherwise Rico is in his dog house, where he can reflect on his day. He’s been following a raw foods diet including chicken, venison and eggs, but is changing to kibble now.

“It’s been a huge change, a lot of training and dedication,” Cox said. “But it’s very rewarding.” He shared that Rico was not accustomed to other officers and vehicles, especially making a live traffic stop on a running vehicle, so much of his first few weeks have been about making the transition.

Rico was, of course, well trained prior to meeting Cox. He was bred to become a K-9 officer and, from the time he was a small pup, he learned the duties of the trade with Working K-9 Owner Tony Pallotta.

According to Police Chief Chad Abram, the family-run company only trains four K-9 dogs per year to join various police forces. The Prairie du Chien Police Department received picture and video updates of Rico since his training began at just a few weeks old. Working K-9’s one-on-one K-9/handler training process is also unique to other similar companies out there.

“Based on what we’ve seen so far, from the time he was a puppy until now, I’d recommend this company to any other department,” Abram stated.

Rico’s chief purpose in Prairie du Chien will be to focus on narcotics, Cox explained. But he’s very good at tracking lost belongings and missing people, such as “an autistic child or an Alzheimer’s patient,” based on human scent. He will also be tasked with chasing suspects.

Cox said Rico is a passive alert dog, which means, when he finds drugs or lost articles, he will sit or lie down and point, with his nose, or stare at the source. “[The item] is usually right under his chest,” Cox noted.

Whenever Cox is on duty, K-9 Rico will be there too. As with the entire department, the team is available to assist surrounding jurisdictions, including the regional SWAT team, if called for help.

The Prairie du Chien Police Department has not had a K-9 team since 2012.

Around $90,000 was raised to bring Rico into the department.

“We surpassed our goal (which was $70,000),” Abram said.

Sgt. Kyle Teynor added, “It was all raised through private donations in a little over a year.”

Businesses and organizations such as Tender Care Animal Hospital, Nelson True Value, Blackhawk Motors, Design Homes, Peoples State Bank, Crossing Rivers Health, Marine Credit Union, Crimestoppers, 3M, Prairie Catholic School, Cabela’s and Leisure Time played a part in sponsoring the dog, his new home, his food and care and needed equipment. Many community members also stepped forward to donate or help with fundraising, particularly Tracy Fernette, who led numerous efforts.

“Thanks to our donors and community for making this possible,” Abram said.

“We anticipate having a K-9 program here for a very long time,” Teynor pointed out. A typical career-span is seven to nine years and then the dog would retire, becoming the officer’s pet.

“But there will be ongoing costs. So people can continue to donate,” Cox said.

Though Tender Care has agreed to provide all Rico’s monthly grooming, trimming, insurance and other health care costs, one of his specific departmental needs is a bite suit for training. Cox said he goes through simple things, like a ball on a rope, quickly, because he’s still a puppy. And since he does drills for rewards instead of receiving treats like typical pets do, such “toys” are important.

As Rico adjusts more to his officer duties, the community will be seeing much more of him. While he’s a friendly dog, Cox said he’s also very obedient and protective over his handler. The public is asked, if they feel the need to pet Rico or greet Cox, to use caution and care and ask before getting too close.

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