Sheriff’s Office adds K-9 unit

Sgt. Alan Cox with K-9 Deputy Dano, Fairfield County Sheriff Will Montgomery, and Sgt. Andrew Ellison with K-9 Deputy Gaia.

AIRFIELD COUNTY – The arrival of a longtime expert at working with law enforcement’s dogs has led to the launch of a new K-9 program at the Fairfield County Sheriff’s office, with two dog handlers and their K-9 partners now operational and assisting with a variety of tasks.

“It’s kind of unusual because we started this in the middle of a fiscal year, but it’s just a unique opportunity,” says Brad Douglas, chief deputy at the Fairfield County Sheriff’s Office.

“We’ve been able to do it at very low cost because of Sgt. Alan Cox, who is actually heading up this program for us. He has a very broad background in this and is very professional, very experienced in law enforcement K-9 programs.”

Sgt. Andrew Ellison & K-9 Deputy Gaia

Through Cox’s professional contacts, he says, the sheriff’s office was able to get trained dogs at relatively low cost, and a nonprofit sheriff’s foundation helped with some of the money that was needed to get the program started.

After a brief training period to acquaint the dogs and handlers, two teams – Cox and his dog, a Belgian Malinois named Dano; and Sgt. Andrew Ellison and his partner, a Dutch Shepherd named Gaia – were operational by the start of February.

“We have been planning long-term to get this program going,” Douglas says, “and the stars aligned, everything fell into place, and it was an opportunity that was just too good to pass up. And we were able to get started at very minimal cost.”

Cox, lead trainer and supervisor for the K-9 unit, says the dogs are trained in several disciplines: They can find narcotics and discarded weapons, but they’re also trained in human tracking – whether that means finding a crime suspect, an endangered adult, or a lost child.

“These dogs are an incredible tool that allow us to fill in the gaps of capability,” Cox says.

“They’re a locating tool that is quite beneficial when the necessity arises, and whether that be drugs or explosives, a missing child – and that happens more than people realize – these dogs can perform in a capacity that humans aren’t capable of.”

Cox, who served about two decades working with dogs for the Richland County Sheriff’s Office, says he handled a dog in Fairfield County years ago, before he left to pursue opportunities in the K-9 world that weren’t available locally.

During those years, he says, he became a master police K-9 trainer and led the K-9 unit in Richland County. Now returning to Fairfield County because of his family ties, he says he hopes to bring the same level of professionalism to Fairfield County’s new K-9 unit.

Sgt. Alan Cox and Dano

“I was able to do a lot of good things in Richland County, and I hope I’ve left a legacy there now – and now it feels kind of the same to come here and put a professional program in place that will far outlive me because it’s a program that has staying power,” Cox says.

“It’s a program that’s going to be structured correctly and deployed correctly and led correctly, so when the day comes that I retire, there will be somebody prepared to take over from me and another handler prepared to take a dog – or multiple handlers prepared to take dogs – to grow the team and watch it be successful long after I’m gone.”

The life of a K-9 handler isn’t easy, Cox says. The dogs and their handlers are on call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.

“All the calls tend to come between 1 and 4 a.m.” he jokes, “and it’s always when you’re off, and it’s always on a holiday.”

He says it’s a full lifestyle, living with a high-energy dog all the time with daily care and regular training tasks, knowing that your life will constantly be interrupted by calls, and often being unable to go out or on vacation due to the responsibilities of the job.

But he says the work he’s done with these dogs over the years has made an important impact.

Douglas says he’s looking forward to the benefits that Fairfield County’s new K-9 program will bring – and is extremely glad to have Cox on board.

“We’re proud that we were able to get this at very minimal cost to taxpayers, to get this program going,” Douglas says, “and we’re excited about the capabilities that this is going to give us, which in turn will make our county a safer place and will make us a much more effective and efficient law enforcement agency.”

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