Sgt. Mike Sievert of the Marinette County Sheriff’s Department plays tug-of-war Tuesday with Rocker, his K-9 partner, which is the dog’s reward for finding drugs that were stashed for a demonstration at the Marinette County Board meeting.EagleHerald/Rick Gebhard
Sgt. Mike Sievert of the Marinette County Sheriff’s Department plays tug-of-war Tuesday with Rocker, his K-9 partner, which is the dog’s reward for finding drugs that were stashed for a demonstration at the Marinette County Board meeting.
EagleHerald/Rick Gebhard
MARINETTE - With the increasing prevalence of heroin and other drugs in Marinette County, the importance of the K-9 unit in the sheriff's department continues to grow.
The County Board of Supervisors got a firsthand look at the unit's two teams at its meeting last Tuesday and it was hard to determine whether board members or the two dogs - Rocker and Nina - were more excited.
"Our agency has a long history of use of dogs in police work," said Sheriff Jerry Sauve. "We've kind of gone along with three or four dogs.
"Unfortunately, this year we lost a dog. Deputy (Jamie) Curran's dog developed a cancer and eventually got so sick she couldn't work and was put down last month. So we're down to two dogs."
The sheriff told supervisors that as a result, he's only budgeted for two dogs in his department's 2014 budget.
"The Menominee County sheriff has a couple of dogs, so we can work back and forth because they tire and need to be rested," he said "We augment each other across the river.
"These dogs are work dogs. They are pretty much all business. They are not just for officer safety, but for keeping our schools and places of employment drug-free."
He noted that KS Kolbenschmidt Inc., recently made a $2,500 donation to help fund the K-9 program.
After the sheriff's opening comments, Sgt. Mike Sievert, the handler of Rocker, and Deputy Brett West, the handler of Nina, talked about the skills of their dogs.
Sievert said Rocker is a 4-year-old Labrador who's been a K-9 since he was 1.
"As you can tell, he is kind of a high-drive, overdrive type of dog," he said. "He takes a lot of patience to handle. He helps us out a lot, especially for search and rescue.
"He's also been an asset to our department as far as finding drugs. We work closely with the drug unit. Both these dogs have found large quantities of heroin, cocaine and marijuana."
As far as track and rescue efforts, he told supervisors how Rocker quickly found a woman that search crews had been unable to locate in Menominee County.
"They had been searching for two hours for the person and within 10 minutes, my dog found the lady," he recalled. "The reason they couldn't find her with all the people was that she was in a little hollow. The dog found the person in there just by her scent."
Sievert said Rocker and Nina take the place of a lot of officers in the field.
West explained that Nina is a duck shepherd, about 8 years old, and that he hopes to be able to use her for about four more years.
"She is a patrol dog which means she does narcotics detection, tracking, apprehension work and will run down someone and bite them until I get there," he said. "If someone comes after me, she will engage.
"She's also found a lot of narcotics in the county. They (the dogs) are worth their weight in gold in my opinion. They get us to a place where we don't normally get, like in vehicles where you know the person has narcotics."
Sievert stressed that the dogs get along well together.
"These dogs actually sleep together when we are out of town," he explained. "These two work great together as a tandem."
He said their skills of working together were recently tested after an armed robbery at the Country Convenience Store in the Town of Stephenson and the subsequent efforts to track down a suspect.
"We started out with Rocker tracking because Rocker is a good tracker," Sievert said. "We save Nina. If the track is too long, we've got her as the second tracker.
"She's also there protecting me and Rocker. If we come across the bad guy, he (West) can release Nina and she'll ignore Rocker and go right on past."
One of the highlights of the presentation on the K-9 unit was a successful mock drug search in the county board room.
The mock drug search was followed by several questions from supervisors.
Sievert explained that K-9 dogs are only trained to go after human scent and not allowed to look for birds, deer or other animals.
"Instead of hunting ducks, pheasants or partridge they hunt for drugs," he said.
West was asked about the training of the dogs and if it begins when they are puppies.
"We take them fresh from day one and train them to find narcotics and everything else we want them to do," he said. "It is so simple training these dogs, we just make it a game for them and they catch on real fast.
"You have to constantly train these dogs. Everytime you get one problem solved, another one pops up. I've got to make sure she is obedient and listens to everything."
"We also do training at home on our own time," added Sievert. "I have my grandkids come over and they go hide and we track them down."
Supervisor Connie Seefelt asked how Rocker and Nina differentiate illegal drugs from legal ones.
"The drugs that these dogs are trained on are marijuana, cocaine, heroin and methamphetamine," West explained. "These are the only drugs these dogs will alert us about."
Supervisor Shirley Kaufman asked Sievert and West if someone can handle their dogs if they are ill or on vacation.
"We are the only ones that can handle the dogs," Sievert answered.
Kaufman then asked if the county would get a third or fourth K-9, and if Sievert and West would still be the only handlers and trainers in the county.
Sievert answered more handlers would be needed and that handling "one dog is enough."
Supervisor Al Mans asked how much the dogs cost to purchase. He was told Nina cost $10,000 and Rocker $7,400.
"Every year, we go and get certified which means the dogs are tested," West explained. "We have a gentleman from K-9 Services in Albuquerque, where we purchased the dogs.
"He comes out and he tests us and our dogs. We have no clue of what we are going to do until he tells us. If we pass ,we have the seal of approval."
Mans asked if you have a choice of breeds when purchasing a K-9 dog.
"Yes, he asked us what breed we wanted," West answered. "Mike (Sievert) has a black lab that is a better hunter, my dog is good at everything.
"His dog (Rocker) has a better nose than my dog when it comes to actual tracking. His dog is a hunting breed, my dog is a protection breed."
Supervisor Kathy Just wondered if Rocker and Nina have special diets.
"Just regular dog food," answered West. "It is handler's responsibility to keep the dog in top physical shape."
"I had the privilege of riding with Deputy West one evening," said Supervisor Vilas Schroeder, board chairman. "If you ever have the desire to ride along, request it. It will be an enlightening experience."
The sheriff said the "dedication of the two officers is just tremendous."
"Sgt. Sievert was scheduled to work last night and used a vacation day so he could be here this morning," Sauve said. "Both of these gentlemen put in an awful lot of time on their time."