Dog days: Kona joins Scarborough Police Department

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SCARBOROUGH — There’s a new officer on the police force — he’s got a fuzzy face and was born and raised in Germany. His name is Kona and he’s a German Shepherd.

Kona is a K-9 police dog in training who arrived from Frankfurt on Mother’s Day. He is staying with Officer Michael Sawyer, who is working closely with him to show him the ropes.

“He’s so friendly, he does really well. He’s really been great,” Sawyer said.

Sawyer is so confident in Kona’s friendliness and personality, that he lets the dog play with his 8-month-old daughter, Dylan.

Kona replaces Sawyer’s former K-9 partner, Jasou, who died unexpectedly earlier in the year from a lung infection.

The department tested three other dogs before they found Kona.

“We test their hunt drive,” Sawyer said. “We take a toy, throw it into a place where they can’t see it and see how long they’ll search for it.”

They look for dogs that will search all day, even if they can’t find what they’re looking for.

They also take the dogs to the Portland International Jetport to see how they react to a large number of stimuli, including groups of people, mechanical equipment and noise. Then they ask them to play in a small, closed in space, such as a closet, to see if they get nervous or shut down.

“If a dog’s concerned about its well-being, the nose will shut down and it won’t be able to work,” Sawyer said.

They were not able to test Kona before he came to them from Germany. However, Sawyer said, the department has a relationship with a man in Germany who does the testing for them and sends them dogs already prepped for training.

“We really got a deal on Kona,” Sawyer said.

The dog cost $5,600, including the travel costs. Many “green” dogs, as they call the untrained dogs, cost between $6,000 and $7,000.

While the department had not budgeted for the purchase of a new dog, when the community found out a replacement was needed, 14 donors, including other local police departments, stepped up and came up with $7,100. The extra money will be used to pay for Kona’s vaccinations and veterinary bills.

Scarborough trains its own dogs instead of sending them away for training. Kona, who is 3 years old, is at the perfect age to begin serious police dog training. Sawyer said dogs 3 to 6 years old have moved out of the puppy stage and are ready to work and train hard.

It takes three to six months to train a dog to do patrols, then another three to six months to prepare the dog for more advanced work, like narcotics, Sawyer said.

“Some dogs take off really quickly, others it takes longer,” he said.

The dogs are certified through the U.S. Police Canine Association and the Maine Criminal Justice Academy. Kona and Sawyer go to a weekly training at the Law Enforcement Dogs of Maine, where they work on various aspects of the job and get feedback from their peers. Then it’s up to them to practice outside of the office.

For a patrol certification, dogs have to be trained in six different disciplines, including general obedience, suspect apprehension, article searching and tracking.

“My last dog found a knife from a stabbing,” Sawyer said.

After Kona is certified for patrols, Sawyer will begin training him to do narcotics searches.

“It’s an ongoing process,” he said. “You can’t simulate the calls you’re going to respond to. They need to be able to work through a lot of different environments.”

Emily Parkhurst can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or eparkhurst@theforecaster.net

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Scarborough Police Officer Michael Sawyer, left, Chief Robert Moulton and Westbrook Sgt. Tim Morrell present Kona, the newest addition to the Scarborough Police Department. Kona came from Germany in May and is currently a K-9 in training.

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