Jackson County K-9 unit visits Lakefield LibraryLAKEFIELD — As witnesses watched with wide eyes, Bear, the Jackson County K-9, searched the room for narcotics and halted immediately next to an elderly woman, signaling to his handler he had detected drugs.
LAKEFIELD — As witnesses watched with wide eyes, Bear, the Jackson County K-9, searched the room for narcotics and halted immediately next to an elderly woman, signaling to his handler he had detected drugs.
The room was silent, then the woman began to chuckle. She was one of the few people who knew the sheriff had planted marijuana in her pocket for the purposes of demonstrating what Bear can do.
Jackson County Deputy Donnie Schoenrock and Bear have been partners for a full year, and Schoenrock believes wholeheartedly that the dog is a valuable asset to the department.
“He is everything I had hoped for and more,” Schoenrock said of the K-9.
At the Lakefield Library on Wednesday, Schoenrock and Bear had the Afternoon Coffee Club audience amazed at the dog’s abilities, yet still chuckling at his doggy antics.
Jackson County Sheriff Roger Hawkinson said the department determined a need for a K-9 unit after a series of events: a missing woman, a drug bust and a missing man. For each of the incidents, another county had to be called to provide K-9 assistance.
“When that woman went missing, we had a helicopter with heat sensors and night vision, and it didn’t find her,” Schoenrock stated. “A dog did. That dog saved her life.”
The department had already received a small grant of $4,500 to go toward a K-9 unit, but Hawkinson knew it wouldn’t be enough.
A short time later, he received a phone call from a Jackson County family. They wanted to donate some money to a good cause and hoped the sheriff would have an idea.
After discussing several ideas, Hawkinson broached the subject of a K-9 unit and the family liked the idea.
“Money started coming in,” he explained. “This is not a county purchase — this is a community dog.”
In fact, Bear’s name was chosen by members of the sheriff’s reserve who donated money to the cause and asked that the dog be named after one of the founding members of their group who had recently passed away. The man’s nickname was Bear.
Schoenrock was chosen for the K-9 program, something he is passionate about. With help from Performance Kennels, a dog was chosen.
“Bear comes from Slovakia,” Schoenrock said.
A 2½-year-old German shepherd, Bear is trained in narcotics, suspect apprehension, tracking and patrol duties.
Last summer, the two faced their first certification trial and received recognition and an award from Division 12 of the U.S. Police Canine Association (USPCA) for Rookie Dog and Rookie Handler. Within its first year, the K-9 unit was also recognized for having a Case of the Quarter, another USPCA award.
Even though Bear was partially trained when he first met Schoenrock, the two had a lot of work to do together.
“A lot of training is training the trainer,” Schoenrock said with a smile.
Spending so much time together, the dog and the law enforcement officer became a unit.
The deputy had to learn to read his dog’s body language and trust in Bear’s abilities. But he also had to learn how to reinforce Bear’s training on a regular basis.
“Bear loves to work, but he’s not a pet, not a buddy — he’s a highly trained piece of equipment,” Schoenrock said. “I spend a lot of time with him, and I love him like he’s my best friend, but there also has to be a separation.”
Because he isn’t a pet, Bear only eats dog food, and doesn’t get treats, even when McDonald’s hamburgers are used in his training process to make sure he passes up temptation and sticks to the job at hand.
“But when he retires, I get to buy him from the county for a dollar,” Schoenrock explained, “Then he gets to be a pet and can eat at McDonald’s.”
Schoenrock credits some of the other area K-9 units with helping in Bear’s training process.
“I really appreciate the quality of the dogs around here, and I have very good peers,” he said, listing off several nearby counties and their K-9 units. “These guys are incredible and have helped me so much.”
The units from the Worthington Police Department, he said, have put Worthington on the map in the K-9 world, as has the Murray County unit in Slayton.
“In big cities, the K-9 units are only doing K-9 work, but here we have to train while we work or on our own time,” Schoenrock said. “It’s great to have such high-caliber people to train with and learn from.”
During his first outing as a narcotics dog, Bear performed as he was trained and alerted to the door of an apartment that smelled of marijuana, Schoenrock said.
When the resident let them inside and agreed to a search, Bear headed straight to the bathroom and the toilet.
“I was so embarrassed,” Schoenrock admitted. “Then I remembered what my trainer had taught me — trust your dog.”
Inside the toilet, where the owner had tried to flush evidence, authorities found several ounces of marijuana. In a bedroom, Bear found more than a pound of marijuana that had been put inside a screwed-shut Igloo container.
“The man was selling marijuana out of the apartment,” Schoenrock said. “Bear took those narcotics off the street.”
That winter, a man who had injured himself ran away from officers. Schoenrock and Bear were called in to track the person.
During the process, Bear headed in an unexpected direction.
Schoenrock and Bear found the man unconscious — huddled in a ball, close to hypothermia.
Authorities were able to get the man the medical treatment he needed.
“It was cold, around zero,” Schoenrock said. “I don’t know if he would have survived. I went home that night pretty happy with Bear.”