Local and area law enforcement K-9 teams participated in a national certification event this week during the inaugural K-9 Challenge held in Statesboro.
The National Narcotic Detector Dog Association, or NNDDA, conducted the exercise Wednesday and Thursday at Connections Church, said Madison Bridges, spokesperson for the Statesboro Police Department.
Canine teams participating included the Bulloch County Sheriff's Office, the Statesboro Police Department, the Effingham County Sheriff's Office, the Chatham County Sheriff's Office, the Savannah-Metro Police Department and the Rincon Police Department.
Bulloch County sheriff’s Cpl. Kirk McGlamery and Statesboro police Advanced Patrol Officer Kyle Briley, both with the Statesboro-Bulloch County Crime Suppression Team, were approached last summer with the idea of having a national certification hosted here, McGlamery said.
“Franklin Chevrolet approached (us) wishing to sponsor the first annual K-9 Challenge to support the local law enforcement canine teams,” he said. “The National Narcotic Detector Dog Association was contacted to provide the standards and certification testing.”
Certification is required for all K-9 teams. In all, 14 teams participated in the exercise, including three from Bulloch County: Briley and his dog, Rio; McGlamery and his dog, Max; and Bulloch County sheriff’s Cpl. Mark Guarino and his dog, Gismo.
The event was held at Connection Church “because it has the space needed for effective certification without disrupting anyone's day-to-day operations,” Bridges said. “This is a major undertaking for NNDDA to come here and allow us to host this certification and something we are very proud to have an opportunity to be a part of.”
The Statesboro Police Department first presented a plaque to the NNDDA in appreciation of its service, and the certification exercises followed, Bridges said.
All three local handlers said they were pleased with their dogs’ performance.
Briley’s K-9 partner, Rio, has been with the Statesboro Police Department since June 2014. The German shepherd was born in Germany and originally trained by AMK9 professional instructors in Florida. He is single purpose narcotic detection canine who is nationally certified in identifying the odors of methamphetamine, heroin, cocaine and marijuana.
“The certification is required per policy,” Briley said. “The National Narcotic Detector Dog Association is one of the more reputable organizations in the country.”
He said Rio, who is 4 ½ years old, was “exceptional” and did a great job during the certification.
The officer-canine team trains weekly and has “logged over 1,000 searches since being assigned to the city of Statesboro K-9 unit,” Bridges said.
Guarino has been working with Gismo, a Belgian Malinois from Germany who was originally trained by UPC K9 professionals in Savannah, since May. Gismo is a dual purpose canine trained in narcotic detection, tracking and article searches, as well as patrol work.
“This was our first patrol certification and our second narcotics certification,” Guarino said.
He said the 2 ½-year-old dog “did phenomenally in narcotics and did exceptionally well in patrol.”
Gismo performed well in building-clearing too, Guarino said, finding a hidden decoy.
“He comes home with me seven days a week,” he said. “If I’m in the in back yard playing ball, Gismo is there.”
Max, 8 years old, has been with the Bulloch County Sheriff's Office since September 2013. The German shepherd was born in Belgium and, like Rio, originally trained with AMK9 professionals in Florida.
Max is a single purpose narcotic detection canine, certified through the state of Georgia K-9 Resource Team, and is trained to find marijuana, cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine and black tar heroin. He trains weekly and has assisted in more than 1,000 searches since being assigned to the Bulloch County Sheriff's Office.
“He did excellent; he has had very good training,” McGlamery said.
Max “goes with me 24/7. He is like a pet, but you don’t really treat him like a pet.
“He loves hunting drugs” and gets upset when McGlamery has a court day and doesn’t take him to work, he said.
All three K-9 handlers said they consider their dogs partners as well as family members.
Herald reporter Holli Deal Saxon may be reached at (912) 489-9414.