Coryell County K9s help fight crime with community support
By BRITTANY FHOLER
The Coryell County Sheriff’s Office is the only law enforcement entity in the county with a K9 program, and they are very proud of that fact.
Under Sheriff Scott Williams, the K9 program was reinstated in April 2017 with the purchase of Stana, a Belgian Malinois narcotics K9, using drug seizure money.
Since then, two more dogs have joined the Sheriff’s Office and, with their handlers, the dogs are putting a dent in the drugs in Coryell County.
The program is partially funded by the County’s budget for the Sheriff’s Office but for the most part, it runs off donations. Most recently, Coryell County Commissioners approved the acceptance of a $1,000 donation from an anonymous source during their Jan. 21 meeting, and a $200 donation from Jeff Mosley during their Jan. 13 meeting. At their De. 9 meeting, the court accepted a $500 donation from Friends Helping Veterans and a $300 donation from the American Legion during their Nov. 12 meeting.
Back in February, after Commissioners voted to accept a $500 donation from the Copperas Cove Exchange Club, Williams said that he considered it a compliment to know that the community is supportive of the K9 program.
“It’s been very effective, and it shows that it’s very well accepted,” Williams told the commissioners in February. “It’s definitely a pat on the back for us.”
During that same meeting, the Commissioners also approved a grant application to receive a dual-purpose K9 from K9s for Cops, who would become the county’s third K9.
Kraken, a Belgian Malinois and German Shepherd mix, can sniff out five different scents relating to narcotics as well as track humans, like Stana and Gunner, the other two K9s, but he can also bite and apprehend offenders. His handler, Deputy Mike Gonzales has been with the Sheriff’s K9 program since June 2017. He was the previous handler for Gunner before becoming Kraken’s handler.
Gunner’s handler is Chief Deputy Rob Atkins and Stana’s handler is Deputy Justin Archie.
Aside from Stana, the Sheriff’s Office has not had to pay to obtain the K9s. Gunner came from an organization called K9 Officers, Inc. based in Houston, while Kraken came from K9s for Cops and was purchased using a donation from Minnesota Vikings NFL player Brian Robison.
Both Gunner and Kraken were the result of a grant. For K9 Officers, Inc., the Sheriff’s Office had to fill out an application telling about the county’s drug statistics and why a narcotics dog was needed.
“So, we talked to them about the drug problem we have in our county, with methamphetamines and marijuana and heroin and cocaine and ecstasy- we’ve got it all here,” Gonzales said.
A single-purpose dog, which is what Stana and Gunner are classified as, can cost anywhere from $12,000 to $14,000, according to Gonzales.
The Coryell County Sheriff’s Office budget for the K9 program, from the county, is just enough money to cover the dog food and the vet bill for the annual checkup, according to Gonzales.
“The problem we run into is that’s never been increased, and when that budget was put in place, it was for one dog,” Gonzales said. “So now we have three dogs and we’re still kind of operating off the one dog budget that was meant just for dog food and the vet bill for the once a year, go get the annual shots and be done with it.”
The deputies have gone to the community to find more support, and a lot of businesses have donated and are continuing to donate.
Home Base donates two bags of dog food to the program every month, according to Gonzales. Several restaurants in Copperas Cove also give a donation. Gonzales said a lot of places wish to remain anonymous because they don’t want the recognition but still want to help out.
“The first year that we started, we raised almost $10,000 in four months,” Gonzales said. “Now to put it into perspective, our patrol units that have the K9 inserts- we don’t have backseats, it’s all for the dogs. It’s like a cage for the dog- those are $3,800 a piece, so that $10,000 was basically gone basically to outfit two K9 cars.”
When the County updates Sheriff’s Office vehicles, these inserts don’t get to switch from one vehicle to another; they are made to fit the patrol car. When the Sheriff’s Office rotates vehicles due to high mileage, they will have to purchase new inserts.
Of the three K9 patrol cars, Gonzales is the only one who has a heat system in his car, and this system had been donated. The K9 patrol vehicles stay running non-stop, with the dogs inside, even when the handler is not near the car. The system monitors the temperatures inside of the car and will roll down the windows of the car if a mechanical issue occurs and the inside temperature reaches 80 degrees. One system runs for about $1,500.
Another cost is the ballistic vests that each of the dogs wear. These cover the dogs’ vital organs and cost double what the ballistic vests for their handlers cost. The three vests worn by the dogs were donated by citizens in Coryell County.
For a single-purpose, narcotics K9, the handler must go through two to four weeks of training with their dog to become certified by the National Narcotics Drug Dog Detection Association.
Upon receiving Kraken, with Gonzales as his handler, the two went through three months of training with the Harris County Sheriff’s Department’s K9 unit. Because Kraken is a dual-purpose dog, he needed to be trained in narcotics as well as how to track a human and how to apprehend a human.
With the three dogs, the three handlers are always on call and ready to respond to any situation. The dogs are utilized on traffic stops, and the Sheriff’s Office supports local law enforcement agencies such as Gatesville Police Department, Copperas Cove Police Department, Texas Department of Public Safety, Texas Game Wardens and more. They have even responded to calls for backup from Lampasas County.
“Whoever needs us, we’re there to support them,” Gonzales said.
The Sheriff’s Office is currently working on signing Memorandums of Understanding with surrounding counties to continue to help them with whatever they need.
The dogs live with their handlers and are trained every day, whether it’s light training or more intense training.
“There’s no such thing as a day off,” Archie said.
“They equate it to having a two year old at home,” Gonzales added. “You have another two year old at home, and they’re needy, and they always want to be with you and you can’t ever leave them.”
Gonzales used to be a Copperas Cove police officer before retiring and joining the Sheriff’s Office. He said he spoke with the Sheriff about becoming a K9 handler and found out that just two months prior, the department had acquired Stana and was trying to get its K9 unit up and running again.
“You know that old saying, ‘Be careful what you ask for because you might get it’?” Gonzales asked. “I was like ‘Great, let’s do this,’ and now there’s some days I look at it and I’m like, ‘What’d I get myself into?’”
Gonzales became Kraken’s handler in July 2019 and is still integrating him into his household with his wife and children.
Since hitting the road with Kraken in July, Gonzales said they have had nine tracks to apprehensions for suspects on foot who ran. Just the other night, Gonzales and Kraken responded and helped Copperas Cove PD with a call to clear a house on a call for suspected burglary of a habitation, he said.
“What we’re doing out there is a lot of the drug interdiction, just getting the drugs off the street,” Gonzales said. “I think the biggest thing we’ve done this past year is sign all those Memorandum of Understandings with all the school districts.”
The dogs and their handlers have swept Oglesby ISD, swept Gatesville High School’s parking lot and will do Evant next week.
“We’re out there trying to get this off the street, all these drugs, and with my dog being the dual-purpose, the bigger criminals that are running or are dangerous, we have this dog that can help us out and apprehend these people.” Gonzales.
Also assist with vehicle searches. Another instance of Kraken’s work was tracking down a suicidal teenager near Cove who had run off into a tree line.
“So, it’s not just the criminal side of it. We’re helping to locate people that are in need too, with whatever may be going on.” Gonzales said.
While Gonzales doesn’t let people pet Kraken just yet, the other handlers often get asked if their dogs can be pet.
“Everybody loves a dog, and we’ve done demonstrations,” Gonzales said. “We do all of that stuff to reach out to the community, to let them know we’re not here as the bad guys, and I think the dogs bring us closer to the community by doing that. The biggest thing is just trying to keep the program going. It’s not cheap.”
“It’s a huge asset,” Archie added. “People don’t realize how big an asset the K9s are.
For those interested in donating to the Sheriff’s Office for their K9 program, the donations are tax deductible.