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Sheriff’s office in Montana launches K9 unit

Posted at 9:27 PM, Jun 18, 2019
and last updated 2019-06-18 23:27:49-04

KALISPELL – The Flathead County Sheriff’s office has two new furry friends to put a stop to drug crime in the area.

Matt Vander Ark and Charles Pesola are the two K9 handlers for the new Flathead County Sheriff’s Office K9 unit.

Victor and Sawyer are two golden labs that cost around $25,000 per dog. Vander Ark tells MTN that the majority of the program was funded by community donations.

Vander Ark tells MTN that the K9 unit is designed to stop drug crimes in the Flathead Valley.

“We’re talking pound levels that are coming through our county. And having this tool to actually go out and find them, it’s huge for our community,” explained Vander Ark.

How Victor and Sawyer learn is simple. Sample drugs are placed and the dog uses its nose to sniff out the drug. Once the dog locates the drug, it signals to its handler where the drug is located.

Sawyer and Victor are conditioned to pair finding the drug with praise and a tennis ball from their handlers. Vander Ark and Pesola tell MTN they never direct their dogs towards the drug. The dogs learn to find the drug on their own.

The bond between handler and dog is special, but Pesola says how he treats Sawyer at home is different.

“My dog at home we would take outside and throw a ball with she gets treats and loved on and hugs and things like that and it’s not that we don’t love on this dog but all of its gratification, emotion, and love comes from working. So, we want to make sure it doesn’t get fulfilled that at home or it wouldn’t have any reason or desire to go to work,” says Pesola.

While Sawyer and Victor aren’t working they spend time in a temperature controlled patrol car to keep them safe, hydrated and fed.

Right now, Sawyer and Victor are training but could be working out in the field within 4-6 weeks. If you see Victor and Sawyer with their handlers please ask before you approach and pet them.

Story by Maren Sui, MTN News