BRISTOL, Tenn. — As soon as Jagger arrived on a plane from Hungary, he started training with new handler Sullivan County Sheriff’s Deputy Jacob Hulse — and the pair hasn’t stopped since.
The 14-month-old Belgian Malinois and Hulse are the newest members of the department’s K-9 unit.
“Jagger is being trained as a dual purpose dog,” Hulse said. “His main job will be narcotics detection and he’ll also be used to track criminals. We’ve been in basic K-9 school for about four weeks and have about two weeks to go before we go to work. In the four weeks we’ve been training, I’ve seen him progress tremendously. His detection work is already incredible — and at times I think he’s smarter than me.”
The first step was for the team to bond, which Hulse said didn’t take long since they train from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. five days a week.
“And then I get to take him home,” Hulse said. “We had to establish a relationship — we had to very much figure each other out and I learned very quickly that Jagger is not typical for a Malinois. He’s young and still has a lot of puppy in him, but he’s focused and alert — so when it’s time to work, he works.”
SCSO Capt. Lee Carswell said Jagger was exactly what he was looking for when there was an opening in the K-9 unit.
Carswell said he looks for dogs that are not easily distracted and have a good hunt drive.
“We require a lot of them,” he said. “If we send him into a building to look for someone, we have to make sure they are not going to get distracted. On a traffic stop, the skill is different. But they have to stay on task no matter what they are doing.”
A strong hunt drive keeps the dog searching until he finds what he’s looking for, which means his drive toward apprehension is great, according to Carswell.
“Each skill is important, but Jagger is focused, intelligent and all business and that combination is incredible — especially in such a young dog,” he said.
Deputies who want to be part of the unit must prove they have a strong desire to be part of the team, have a good attendance record, be self-motivated and able to perform with little supervision, he added. Handlers are responsible for their dogs 24/7 and must keep up with the laws regarding use of the dogs.
Learning the different aspects of working with the dogs was part of the allure for joining the team, Hulse said.
The other members of the team are K-9 Drako and Deputy Andrew Walden, K-9 Dexter and Deputy Kris Thomas, and K-9 Neeko and Deputy Roger Antone. All the dogs are Belgian Malinois and dual purpose animals.
Two-year-old Drako is a patrol and explosives dog who “takes down bad guys and finds bombs,” according to Walden. Recently, Drako went after a man who was hiding in a house, he added.
“We got everybody out of the house and knew the guy was still in there,” Walden said. “I took Drako in, announced that we were there and started searching — we got to the last room and the guy swung the door open, put his hands up and started saying ‘I give up, I give up. Don’t let him bite me.’”
Walden said even though Drako was excited the dog remained on task, he said.
“He typically stays calm when we’re doing searches,” he said. “He learns quickly, which makes him easy to command, but when he’s off duty he like a puppy and wants to play all the time.”
Eight-year-old K-9 Dexter, who has been with Thomas for five years, searches for narcotics and criminals. The pair averages 10–15 narcotics searches a month.
“Last year, we had a tip that a meth dealer was at a hotel in the Kingsport area. We made a traffic stop on him and Dexter hit on the car,” he said. “We found four-and-a-half ounces of meth. We also find meth on the streets almost every night.”
Last week, Thomas said the team did two searches in Bristol and found pot both times. Meth was found on the second search.
Thomas described his dog as being like a big teddy bear until it’s time to go to work.
“His favorite thing to do is criminal apprehension,” Thomas said. “He loves catching the bad guys. We’ve had about a dozen who have actively run and we’ve caught them — but most of them give up.”
About three years ago, a man hid under a mobile home, said Thomas, who sent Dexter in after him.
“I gave four commands for them to come out, but he didn’t give up until I gave the bite command. Dexter was within about 5 feet of the guy and his girlfriend when they started screaming bloody murder that they were surrendering.”
Although Dexter is 8, Thomas doesn’t expect to retire him anytime soon.
“Some dogs have worked for 13 years,” he said. “He has a lot of spunk so I’ll work him until I know it’s time for him to go home — then I’ll take him to the house.”
K-9 Neeko is a 5-year-old patrol and narcotics dog. He and Antone have similar personalities, according to Antone.
“He’s got a very good personality, he’s friendly and energetic, like me,” he said with a laugh. “I take him into schools, kids play with him, take pictures with him. He’s very personable, but when it’s time to work — he’s on.”
Antone added that Neeko is very good at what he does — especially when he’s looking for narcotics.
“A few years ago I conducted a traffic stop in Kingsport and he found a whole ‘grow operation’ in a car,” he said. “He found light bulbs, buckets, plants and fresh-cut marijuana in the vehicle. Basically, the whole back seat was full of everything needed to grow and sell marijuana.”
Neeko also loves to find bad guys and he’s fast, his handler said.
“I’ve thought about getting roller blades just so I can keep up with him,” he said. “He also likes it when the blue lights come on. He jumps up and starts moving around. He gets excited — he loves to work.”
Antone said it would be hard to count the number of cases the pair has worked on together.
“It’s just been a blessing to have him,” he said, smiling down at his dog. “It’s great to work with him.”