The Johnson City Police K9 unit is back to full strength after working a dog short for nearly three years.
The five K9s also are sporting new tactical vests that provide their handlers a better way to lift up the dog or lower the dog during searches. The vests, Sgt. Eric Dougherty said, were donated by Natural Pet Supply.
Without the donation, the vests — which run about $450 each — were far outside the K9 unit’s budget, Dougherty said.
“The biggest thing for us is putting the dogs into low spaces,” Dougherty said.
The vests are equipped with a top handle that allows the handlers to pick the dog up if necessary. The vests are also lightweight, with areas of mesh that allow the dog to stay cool while working. Dougherty said the tactical vests fit over the bullet-proof vests the dogs already wear.
The newest addition to the K9 unit, Rhino, and his handler, Officer Jeff LeGault, have trained with the vests almost from the beginning of their partnership. LeGault said he doesn’t see how the other handlers ever got by without the vest.
LeGault and Rhino joined the unit in December after obtaining certification following extensive training.
Dougherty said it’s nice to finally be fully staffed again.
“We were running with four dogs and had a vacancy on Platoon 3 for about three years,” Dougherty said. “Things came together this year and we were able to fill that position.”
LeGault said being a K9 officer is something he’s wanted to do for a while. He’s assisted with the unit’s training for about two years, so moving into a handler position was natural, he and Dougherty said.
His dog, Rhino, is a 2-year-old Brindle colored Dutch Shepherd with a couple of successful drug searches to his credit already.
LeGault said Rhino performed two exterior searches of vehicles suspected of containing drugs and alerted on both. An interior search revealed marijuana in both vehicles, LeGault said.
Rhino and Legault join four other K9s on the force — Dougherty with K9 Rex, Jeff Stork with K9 Storm, Robert Edwards with K9 Cliff and Jeff Jenkins with K9 Marco.
With Rhino’s addition, Dougherty said each platoon has a working K9 on the shift.
Valerie Whaley, who co-owns Natural Pet Supply with her husband, Don, said the money for the vests came from donations and fundraisers the store conducts year round.
And it isn’t just JCPD that benefits from those donations. Natural Pet has provided equipment for several other law enforcement K9 units throughout the Tri-Cities.
“If we can help them, we want to do that,” Whaley said. “One of things we try to do every year is to pick a charity we can help.” The donations aren’t always animal-related, but usually that’s the focus, she said.