ORIGINALLY WRITTEN BRENDA CONYERS
As of April 16, Marion County Sheriff’s Department has its own K9 unit.
Jag, a 14-month-old female Belgian Malinois, has already made a number of searches, as well as four positive drug identifications, during investigations in the Marion city park, at the high school and on a car traveling through the county, which led to an arrest.
His handler, sheriff deputy Jeff Soyez, says Jag will continue to be “working hard for his room and board.”
Before moving back to Marion County, Soyez had served in the U.S. Coast Guard a number of years. Two of those years he spent boarding ships and conducting drug searches.
“I saw the dogs in action there and saw what a help they could be to an officer,” he said.
Soyez conducted research on the Internet, talked to other law enforcement officers with K9 units and read information before requesting to work with a dog, in particular a Belgian Malinois.
According to Soyez, this breed has a work-life expectancy of eight to 10 years, with additional years for retirement fun.
“I took my research to Sheriff Becker and he supported me, so here we are,” Soyez said.
Jag originally came from a kennel in Connecticut that breeds dogs exclusively for protection and police work.
Before purchasing the dog, a K9 Unit trainer from the Wichita Police Department, Brad Agnew, went to Connecticut to run hunting drive tests on Jag to be sure she would be a good working dog.
After passing the first set of his tests, Jag was sent to live with Soyez for two weeks to see if the two would be compatible and work well together. Jag was six months old at the time.
“It was just a time to bond,” Soyez said. “We played a lot of fetch and just enjoyed each other.”
After a successful bonding time, Jag was sent to Wichita for training while Soyez went off to the academy for his law enforcement training.
Jag was in Wichita from October until April and learned from Agnew to communicate to officers that she had found drugs, to follow basic obedience and to recognize a number of drug scents.
All of her commands were taught in German. Soyez says this is done for two reasons: a criminal cannot confuse her by issuing orders at the same time Soyez is telling her what to do, and with all the constant talking going on much of the time, dogs can “turn us off” or become immune to English words. The harsh letter-sounds of the German language brings the dogs back to attention.
Jag was also taken to all of the Wichita city buildings and into Missouri for scent trials. Agnew wanted to be sure the dog was ready for work before having Soyez pick her up for duty.
As a police working dog, Jag lives in a kennel and does not go out with Soyez for “fun” drives or just to play.
“She is only with me when I have my uniform on and we are in the police car,” Soyez said. “Her reward is the attention she gets from me when working. Knowing the attention is coming after the job is done helps her focus on the work she is doing.”
Soyez said Jag is affectionate with her mouth and paws, and frequently looks to him to share and receive some attention.
He also said if someone were to touch Jag without permission, they could be in trouble.
“To hit Jag is almost worse than hitting an officer because Jag can’t defend herself,” Soyez said. “And it would be a felony charge.”
She must train a minimum of four hours a week with Soyez. But because he wants a well-trained and efficient dog, Soyez is willing to work her extra hours.
Last week he worked 20 hours with Jag, and said he will not train her less than eight hours per week.
Soyez explained most pets learn basic obedience and remember the commands indefinitely. Jag, however, has so much to learn and remember that the commands must constantly be reviewed.
Besides the training and care of the K9 Unit, Soyez realizes that he has adopted a dog for life. Once the dog retires, she will continue to live with Soyez, although probably not outside in the kennel but inside on the couch.
Jag is not funded by the county general fund, but from funds collected when drugs are confiscated.
“If she wants to eat, she has to find dope,” Soyez said.
Even though the drug dogs in Marion County have and continue to do good work, Soyez said the sad reality is that drugs have a powerful influence on the country.
His goal is to get a handle on the drug situation in Marion County, recognizing it will never be completely obliterated.
“I want to see the high schools cleaned up,” he said. “When I first came to Marion I saw high school students selling drugs to elementary kids.”