GREENFIELD — On a summer evening not too long ago, 4-year-old Kyle Pierce wandered away from his home in New Palestine and into a nearby cornfield.
Hundreds of volunteers and dozens of trained officers came out to help in what turned into a five-hour search for the boy.
The incident occurred in August, but it is still fresh in the mind of Hancock County Sheriff Mike Shepherd. While it was ultimately a volunteer who found little Kyle safe in a wooded area about a mile away from his home, Shepherd said it was a perfect example of why law enforcement departments need K-9 officers on their force.
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Now, thanks to the generosity of residents and area businesses, the sheriff’s office has two new German shepherds, Fero and Argo, among the ranks. The purchase means the department now has three K-9s to assist officers with cases.
“It’s great when the community can come out to support a cause like this,” Sheriff’s Maj. Brad Burkhart said.
Planning for the dogs began in early January after deputies David Wood and Ted York approached the sheriff about their ambitions to become K-9 handlers.
Together, they arranged fundraisers and applied for grants to help cover the roughly $20,000 cost of purchasing the two dogs, their equipment and training.
Donations from the public covered the full cost of purchasing the dogs, at a cost of about $1,000 each. The majority of the cost of their training will also be covered; training is expected to cost as much as $4,000 per dog, with the department covering any leftover balance, Burkhart said.
The officers were planning to have the K-9s in place by May, but the community helped them reach their goal sooner. Wood will now partner with Fero, while York will partner with Argo.
Wood, who has been involved in law enforcement for four years, said he first became interested in working with a K-9 when he was employed in Marion County. He would often see other officers with their dogs, and he thought it would be an interesting path to take in his career.
York, who has been an officer for six years, agreed.
“(Being a K-9 handler) is something I’ve always wanted to do,” he said. “I’ve always had pets, and this is a good way to further my experience in law enforcement.”
Both dogs and their handlers will go through five weeks of training beginning next week.
K-9 officers are used in cases where tracking and searching is required, whether it’s a criminal or a lost child. They are also trained to sniff out drugs, bombs and other illegal paraphernalia.
While K-9 officers serve as great utilities to the department, they are also essential to police safety, Shepherd said.
“If you’re searching a building for an armed suspect, the dog’s going to detect someone before a person will,” he said.