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Hall County adds canine to help secure courthouse

POSTED: March 23, 2013 12:30 a.m.

The Hall County Courthouse has a new staff member in its security ranks.

Star, a 4-year-old black Labrador and retired Marine Corps bomb-sniffing dog, now is conducting courthouse checks with her handler, Sheriff’s Deputy Rusty Blalock.

“We received Star in November. I went up to North Carolina and picked her up,” Blalock said. “Her last deployment was with the Marine Corps. She returned from Afghanistan where she was a bomb dog for the Marines, explosion detection.”

Blalock’s last partner on the job, German shepherd Olaf, died of cancer in February.

He said Star has been doing well so far, with some minor adjustments that come with the new breed.

“A German shepherd hunts off of what is referred to as ‘play kill.’ They hunt more aggressively,” he said. “A lab is more of a true hunter — they have a hunting instinct. When comparing the two, however, they seem to be equivalent as far as skill level.”

Blalock has adjusted his handling technique as well.

“A German shepherd would take a verbal correction a lot better, where a Lab doesn’t. A Lab is a lot more emotional. You have to be more creative in correcting any training issues,” he said.

Star was trained K-2 in North Carolina. With the Marine Corps scaling down operations, she was recruited to Hall County at a very reasonable price, Blalock said.

“They’ve been drawing down the number of bomb dogs they utilize. It actually cost $5 to get my signature notarized stating we’d take liability for the dog and acquire her,” Blalock said.

Star is not yet as certified as Olaf was, Blalock said.

“We were hoping to bring Star on board and have her certification on hand, but with Olaf’s passing, the timeline didn’t work out,” he said.

Certification would qualify Star to respond to an active bomb threat. The Chatham County K-9 unit administers the certification test.

“We still do searches at the courthouse every morning. If I had an active bomb threat, I would call on Homeland Security or ATF,” Blalock said. “We’re very fortunate to have Homeland Security. They have a bomb dog over in Forsyth County who trains with us a lot.”

Blalock said Star should be certified by the end of April.

Reggie Forrester, administrator of the Hall County Courthouse, expressed satisfaction with his workplace security.

“We have an excellent security staff. Chris Matthews is the captain. They are very, very cognizant of the world around us, and what might be happening throughout our county,” he said.

Matthews, head of the court services division, said Star’s role is crucial for preparing daily courthouse activity.

“They do a perimeter check, and check the interior,” he said. “They check everything before any courthouse is utilized.”

Like Olaf, she lives with Blalock and his family when not working.

“She’s fine; she lives in the house, just like Olaf did until he passed,” Blalock said. “She actually has taken to the love seat. Olaf had a big dog bed in the bedroom; she prefers to sit by the fire.”

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