Nitro is Albertville’s newest K-9

Nitro is following in the paw prints of the retiring Kilo at the Albertville Police Department.

The young black German Shepherd, bred in Czechoslovakia, is scheduled to attend training with K-9 officer Joey Skaggs in November. Kilo, a 10-year-old Hungarian-bred German Shepherd, will live with Skaggs and may still be used for demonstrations, like show-and-tell at schools.

Police said Nitro was purchased last month from a vendor in Kentucky for $7,500. Skaggs will train the 2-year-old for certification at a Huntsville Police Department facility for three months. Skaggs said he would spend the next two years or more training Nitro for “street use.”

“Really, the dog is training the whole time because you never come across the same situation twice,” said Skaggs, whose 11-year-old son Blake named Nitro.

Albertville police Chief Benny Womack said the Huntsville Police Department doesn’t charge any fees to use its site for training and praised Huntsville police Chief Henry Reyes for his cooperation.

“In my opinion, they have the premiere canine program in the Southeast,” Womack said. “

Skaggs emphasized handlers like him train their own dogs.

“A lot of folks get the misconception as a handler, we don’t train the dogs,” he said. “We train our own dogs and Huntsville oversees it.”

While Skaggs shares a strong bond with Kilo, he reluctantly admitted, “Nitro’s already 10 times the dog Kilo was.”

Albertville has four K-9 dogs on the force, used mostly for narcotics detection but also for tracking and apprehension. Josh Isbell handles Mako and Thomas Ball is partnered with Kaiser. The department plans to assign a fourth officer to Bok in time for training in November.

Womack said the K-9s are insured, and a local businessman, who doesn’t want to be identified, contributes all the food for the K-9 unit. Donations over the years have also helped create a cost-effective program.

“When I became chief I wanted to have access to narcotics detection dogs,” Womack said. “They have been very valuable to us in a lot of different ways.”

Skaggs said Kilo’s very first street bust tallied close to $500,000 of marijuana and the drug ice. More sociable than the typical K-9, Kilo served for about five years, police said.

“He paid for himself the very first time,” Skaggs said. “Kilo’s been with us the longest. He’s getting old and he’s having some hip problems.”

Womack and the K-9 officers said an unexplainable bond often forms between the officers and the dogs. The dogs live and receive care at the officers’ homes, but the animals become partners rather than pets.

“You don’t want to get the dog too social,” Isbell said.

The transition from the trained Kilo to the untrained Nitro will take some time for Skaggs, but the most experienced K-9 officer on the force is prepared.

“Kilo’s more like a member of the family,” Skaggs said. “The hardest part is just the bonding issue. We’re with these dogs more than we are our families.”

K-9 officers, like Skaggs, Isbell and Ball, perform their duties in addition to the regular job of an officer.

“We’re patrolmen, then we’re K-9,” said Ball, who spent four years in the Air Force working with K-9s.

Womack said officers have to apply for the K-9 unit, and the job requires a specific mentality and energy level.

“We have to choose the right person,” the chief said. “The motivating factor has to impress me before an officer can handle a dog. It’s not easy for these officers. It’s a constant thing. They get an incentive for it but it’s not much.”

The dogs are certified annually, and K-9 officers have to remain updated on laws, particularly the ones regarding searches and apprehensions.

Womack said the dogs have actually received threats, which is why they’re closely monitored.

“There are people who would like to see the demise of police dogs,” Womack said. “It’s a Class C felony for anyone to kill a certified police dog.”

Despite the high maintenance issues involving the dogs, the K-9 officers said they love their jobs.

“It’s by far the best job in the department,” Ball said. “What helps is we have the support of the citizens and the whole department, from the chief on down.”

Skaggs is especially proud of the city’s K-9 unit.

“We’ve got a good program now,” Skaggs said. “Like the chief said, Huntsville has got the premiere program, but we’re knocking on the door.”

No comments: