COVINGTON - The two newest deputies at the Newton County Sheriff's Office will work for food. They are the new canines - a Belgian Malinois and a bloodhound - who are members of the revamped NCSO K-9 Unit.
The new unit will be comprised of all fresh canines as the former four-legged deputies have retired, the most recent of which was the Dutch shepherd Kegan, a seven-year veteran all-purpose patrol dog handled by Sgt. Sonny Goodson.
Goodson will be supervising the K-9 Unit, but he's hanging up his handling duties.
"I'm going to miss it, but it's a younger man's game. There's a lot of walking. With a bloodhound, you have to be able to walk or trot at least 3 miles at a time," he said. "Our canine officers are in top-notch condition."
Goodson pointed out that it requires a huge commitment on the part of deputies who volunteer as handlers as they take the dogs home with them and are on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
The NCSO has recently acquired a third canine for the unit. It, too, is a bloodhound, giving the NCSO what Goodson feels is a real advantage in apprehending criminals.
"The bloodhounds are totally man-trackers," he said. "That's something we have wanted to do in the past. We have a lot of people who run from cars and also from burglary scenes. With a bloodhound, we're able to retrace their steps. They'll be a valuable tool for the Sheriff's Office."
The two bloodhounds - Pete and Jiggs - are natural trackers, but both have been trained for approximately two years to be able to work with the NCSO.
"Bloodhounds are natural trackers, but to get to the point where they can work in conjunction with people, it takes a lot of training," Goodson said.
Pete's handler is Deputy Chad Hunt, who went to the kennel in South Carolina that bred Pete to train with him. Further training includes national certification for both handler and dog.
"The state of Georgia doesn't require certification, but Sheriff (Ezell) Brown wants all our dogs and handlers certified so there will be no question when they go to court," Goodson said.
Jiggs, who is expected to be fit for service shortly, is also a South Carolina native. He was trained by and acquired through the U.S. Marshals Service.
"Because of cutbacks, they pulled a lot of dogs out of their program, and we were able to get a good dog at a reasonable price," Goodson said, adding that the price tag on the bloodhounds is about $5,000 each and they were paid for by seized drug funds.
Belgian Malinois Chobe is handled by Deputy Kevin Watson, who works with the traffic unit and is trained in drug detection. She was donated to the NCSO by the Conyers Kennel Club.
"They were wanting to donate vests for our dogs and when I was talking with (club member) Dr. Erin Mayfield here in Covington, I expressed the desire to purchase a new dog," Goodson said. "We found the dog and they were more than willing to come on board and assist us."
It turned out Chobe was owned by the Temple Police Department and had been trained by well-known dog handler Jay Repetto, a former Rockdale County Sheriff's Office deputy.
"We were real happy to be able to get one of Jay's dogs," Goodson said.
Chobe and handler Watson, a 13-year dog-handling veteran, have been a team just over two months. She had not had the opportunity to keep her skills honed, so Watson said he's concentrated on retraining her and getting her certified.
"She knows all the odors, and she's very clear on her alerts. She's a passive response dog," Watson said, adding she either sits or lays down to indicate the presence of drugs.
She is replacing Rin, a 9-year-old who Watson said was a very successful drug dog.
"He did a lot of things for us out there on the interstate. She's got some big shoes to fill," he said.
He said Rin still wants to come to work every day.
Goodson said NCSO vehicles driven by the handlers have been outfitted to accommodate the canines, giving them a cool, comfortable place to rest between assignments. He said he is hopeful that in next year's budget funds can be appropriated for a kennel at the Sheriff's Office.
Barbara Knowles can be reached at email@example.com.