Officer, police chief discuss police dog training and the community impact of the K-9 program.
BY NAOMI KOWLES
For the Star Journal
Rhinelander Police Chief Lloyd Gauthier designated officer Chad Brown as the next K-9 handler at the Public Safety Committee meeting at City Hall on March 27. Gauthier said the department currently has raised about a third of the money needed of their $40,000 goal, which will cover the dog’s cost, training for the officer to adjust to the dog, and a specialized K-9 patrol car. They expect to acquire the next canine by summer.
In an interview following the announcement, Gauthier said that Brown’s tenure and passion for the program were primary reasons for his selection. Brown has been a police officer for 16 years, moving from the Minocqua police department to the Rhinelander force over 10 years ago. He said it has been a goal of his for most of his career to become a K-9 handler.
His passion for police dogs started in Minocqua at a routine traffic stop, where a man fled the scene and the Vilas County K-9 unit quickly tracked him down.
“It was just amazing watching the dog work; I just fell in love with it.”
He said he took every opportunity to work with the Vilas County K-9 unit after that, and later worked with Mertz and Drago.
“Any time Angela needed help with anything, I was there,” he noted. Brown said he helped Mertz and Drago with fundraising and public presentations whenever possible and helped spearhead the stuffed animal “hero dogs” fundraising program.
The K-9 program is funded entirely by the community. The $40,000 needed includes the cost of a new patrol car, Gauthier said, with the backseat outfitted to accommodate both the dog’s kennel and space for transporting a person. The department was too small, he explained, to allow an entire back seat to be reserved for the dog, as the handler would still have to participate in normal police tasks that would require transport of individuals. Brown said the department already possessed all the interior equipment needed for the car, except the backseat dog enclosure.
As for choosing a dog, Brown said he is still researching K-9 programs in surrounding areas, and that he would be talking to other local police K-9 handlers regarding their experiences with various kennels. He will be visiting several to observe their training philosophies before making a decision, and hopes to find one in Wisconsin so that he can return monthly with the dog for training and any issues that arise.
Gauthier and Brown said they wanted a multi-purpose dog trained not only in narcotics but also in tracking, protection, apprehension and building searches. Both discussed two schools of thoughts in the training of police dogs, in which one method prepares the dog to integrate as a family dog at the handler’s home while the other trains it solely as a work dog. Brown indicated that he wanted the dog to become a member of the family, a philosophy that would influence from which kennel the dog was selected.
Gauthier noted that a strong relationship with the community was vital for the police to do their job well. “The dog is a showcase for our agency,” he explained.
“There’s something about a dog that people absolutely love…especially a dog that walks in sporting a badge around his neck,” he explained. Children in particular, he noted, loved meeting Drago.
In addition to a canine’s ability to assist in arrests, Gauthier talked about the bigger purpose of the dog as the first step toward correcting behavior, protecting children, and getting services to families affected by individuals using drugs.
He described the K-9 program as a tool that starts with narcotic searches or property crime and leads the police force to individuals affected by drug addiction. The police can then assist in getting those suffering from addiction into rehabilitation and helping the family toward healthier choices, he explained.
“It’s not about arresting people or taking them to jail. It’s about trying to correct behavior. Because when you correct behavior and people make better decisions, then you have healthier families.”
Both Gauthier and Brown expressed gratefulness to the community for the support it has shown for the dog. The department is also continuing to sell stuffed “K-9 hero” dogs to help fund the program.
The Rhinelander Police Department launched its first K-9 program in 1987 under police chief Anthony “Tony” Paris with K-9 officer Cruiser. The next canine will be the fourth in the department’s history.
Drago, retired in December 2017, was instrumental in breaking open a fraudulent ID crime ring involved in stealing the identities of deceased soldiers who had served in Iraq.