The Saratoga County Sheriff’s Department recently graduated six new canine teams that completed training that began in September.
Prior to the start of the 2019-2020 dog training school year, six canines were selected to be trained. Of the six newly graduated canines, four will be replacing existing canines that have moved on to retirement.
All of the retiring canines will remain with their handlers and their families.
Of the six graduating dogs, two of them are assigned to handlers who are new to the K-9 Unit.
Deputy Nic Denno, training coordinator of the unit, said on Wednesday that the process through which dogs are selected and secured for training consists of multiple factors; the dogs come from a variety of places, including breeders or individuals who wish to donate the dogs.
Denno said that obtaining the dogs generally involves a lot of networking from him, as well as research into suggested dogs to make sure they fit department criteria. Dogs must be the appropriate age, 12 to 18 months old, and must successfully pass a number of emotional tests.
“The dogs need to have a specific temperament,” he said.
The Sheriff’s Department K-9 school consists of more than five months of training. The training covers patrol functions such as handler protection, building search procedures and socialization with the public.
The canines are also trained to track criminal suspects or missing persons.
Once the dogs are acquired, they undergo extensive medical testing and then hours of work per month with their designated handlers to prepare them for their new roles.
Once the dogs are trained, Denno said, they can work anywhere from eight to 10 years. After that, they retire and remain with their handlers.
“We like our dogs to be sociable, we like our dogs to be part of the family,” Denno said.
The Sheriff’s Department K-9 Unit now consists of four narcotics detection teams and four explosive detection teams, all of them doubling as patrol workers as well.
The new teams are Deputy Nic Denno and Taylor, a one-year-old German shepherd; Deputy Robert Whipple and J.D., an almost-2-year-old German shepherd-Malinois mix; Deputy C.J. Brownell and Johnny, a 1-year-old German shepherd; Deputy Adam Potter and Riker, a 1-year-old German shepherd; Deputy Nikki Voegler and Neeka, an 18-month-old German shepherd; and Deputy Crien Salton with Flash, a 1-year-old German shepherd.
Voegler and Salton are both newly assigned to the K-9 Unit. Denno, Whipple, Brownell and Potter all recently retired their previous canine partners, Jagger, Karma, Lee and Bud, respectively.
Voegler is the first woman on the team, Denno said. Prospective K-9 handlers go through an extensive interview and testing process. Officers who wish to switch to the program must have three years in the department and be in good standing.
Each canine in the 2019-2020 graduating class, Denno said, has a significant namesake, most of them with local roots.
Taylor has been named after Pvt. 1st Class David “Taylor” Miller of Wilton, who was killed in combat in Afghanistan on June 21, 2010. J.D. is named after Whipple’s father, John D. Whipple, who died in 2016 after a battle with brain cancer.
Johnny is named for Saratoga County sheriff’s Investigator John M. Brown, a 12-year member of the department who died in 2017. Riker was named after Riker’s Island Correctional Facility in New York City and Flash was named in memory of retired Deputy William “Flash” Marshall, who died in January 2018.
Denno said there isn’t a set guideline in giving the dogs particular names, but this class of dogs happened to line up with a group of past Sheriff's Department employees the officers wanted to honor.
“The opportunities to do these things were there, so we took advantage of them,” Denno said.