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Four-legged police aides get trained
K-9 unit dogs find items, track suspects, sniff out narcotics and do building searches
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Gainesville Police Officer Jeremy Edge looks to see his K-9 partner Alex has found the hidden evidence Tuesday morning during a training session at the Gainesville Public Safety Complex.

Gainesville Police Sgt. Jim Von Essen lobbed his keys, a wallet and a plastic shotgun shell into high grass.

In short order, his two recruits Alex and Rex scrounged around to find them and sat down when successful.

For finding the sergeant’s keys, Rex was rewarded with a cricket ball.

“All the stuff he does is for a toy,” Von Essen said. “That’s his paycheck.”

Alex and Rex finished up certification exercises Tuesday as the newest additions to the department’s K-9 unit.

The department purchased the two German shepherds 13 weeks ago from Sharpsville, Pennsylvania, with seized funds. The dogs work with handlers Jeremy Edge and Jason Pierce before certification to go out into the field.

“They spend more time than they do with their wives and children,” Von Essen said. “When they go to work, they’re with their dogs and they get off work with their dogs.”

Gainesville Police have four dogs at their disposal, which are trained to find items, track suspects, sniff out narcotics and do building searches.

“If a door is closed, they can go into a building and smell the bottom of the door and tell if there’s a human behind that door,” Von Essen said.

Alex is the second dog for Edge, who took home the retired Quenn to stay with his family.

“He’s like a lap dog, basically,” Edge said. “He’s able to run around the yard and have fun.”

Quenn served for six years with Edge, who built a strong connection with his canine counterpart.

“Even my 5-year-old can tell him commands now that he’s retired … He has that good of a bond with my family,” Edge said.

Particularly with the heat wave, Gainesville Police K-9 handlers install safeguards to make sure the dogs don’t overheat in the car.

Officer Dusty Johnson, who works with Anja, will be alerted if the car goes above 91 degrees.

“This system will actually drop both back windows, which these windows have cages on them,” Johnson said. “There’s also a fan on the other side that automatically engages and starts pulling fresh air into the car.”

Pierce moved from patrol to work with Rex, his first dog with the department. His experience with a bloodhound in Hall County corrections, he said, opened him up to working with police dogs.

“That’s one of the hardest things is to be able to read your dog, communicate with him and allow him to communicate with you,” Pierce said.

The learning never ends, the handlers said, as the officers will continue training with them at least 20 hours per month.

Rex, Pierce said, doesn’t take a day off.

“We’ve been working Monday through Friday, but Saturday and Sunday he doesn’t turn his alarm off,” he said. “So he’s barking 6:30 (a.m.) ready to go to work, and I’m in there trying to rest.”

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