The Fredericktown Police Department has welcomed Buster, a German shepherd from the Czech Republic, as the newest member of their K-9 program.
Buster is a dual-purpose patrol K-9 and is trained in tracking and narcotic detection as well as fugitive apprehension.
The department's other K-9, Alexio, is currently entering his sixth year with the department. Fredericktown Police Chief Eric Hovis said the national average for which police K-9s are able to work is seven years.
"As long as Alexio's health will allow him to pass certifications we will utilize him," Hovis said. "Obviously he will still be around but once he is retired and no longer goes to training or passes the certifications we will not use him for official cases."
Hovis said incidents such as missing persons or for example an elderly person with dementia walking away from a residence would be a way Alexio would still be useful after retirement.
"Alexio has been very successful as our first patrol K-9," Hovis said. "Our dogs must pass patrol K-9 certifications along with the handler. The dogs are trained to sniff out explosives and narcotics. They search for lost human beings and apprehend fleeing criminals. The dogs are also used in our schools and safety demonstrations."
Buster was trained by Master Trainer Mike Diehl in Indianapolis and will undergo recertification every year.
Fredericktown Police Officer Kyle Colyott has the privilege of being Buster's handler and says he is enjoying the opportunity.
"I've been in law enforcement going on 11 years now and it's something that I haven't done and something I've always wanted to do," Colyott said. "The plan is I'm going to work here until he (Buster) retires and typically they retire the dog with the handler and they get to live a normal dog's life after that."
Colyott, along with his family, live in the area and said he enjoys working for the Fredericktown Department and is happy to be making a longer commitment.
When it comes to Buster he seemed to be enjoying his prized ball as Colyott explained their time together.
"The first day we hit it off almost like I had had him since he was a puppy," Colyott said. "We are getting to the point now where he picks up on a lot of my traits. If we get called out on a certain call he can pick up on if it is a high-priority type or not."
Colyott said dogs primarily learn by exposure and self discovery and the more interactions Buster has with people, kids or whatever he is going to be around the more comfortable he will become.
"He calms down once he learns it's not a threat, it's not going to hurt me. It's not weird, it just is what it is," Colyott said. "Primarily you want him to be neutral to most external stimuli."
Colyott said he works with Buster constantly keeping up his current skills as well as preparing him to learn new ones. He said some things have been a transition but he is a good dog with excellent training and very good bite work.
"Anything we do is a perishable skill unless we continue to do it," Colyott said. "He just turned a year last week so he still has a lot to go. He still has his puppy moments where we will be in the middle of training and a butterfly will fly by and he just goes off like 'what was that?'"
While Buster has not met Alexio yet Colyott said he is sure an interaction in a controlled environment will happen. He said they usually work the opposite shifts in order to have a dog more readily available.
Colyott said he has already grown attached to Buster and the feelings were obviously mutual as Buster watched his every move from inside the patrol car.
"Typically when I get out of the car he is constantly watching me and scanning the area," Colyott said. "He kind of reminds me of one of my kids where he wants to be with me all the time. If I get out of the car and start to walk away it's like 'where are you going?' and 'don't I get to come with you?'"
Colyott said they do have conversations, while they may be one-sided, as they drive around patrolling and Buster does love to have his "dog moments" and will get mad if the window is not rolled down far enough.