FORSYTH COUNTY -- Bowi jumped on his handler, Cpl. David Abel, in a puppy-like fashion, smothering Abel in kisses.
Ears relaxed and tail wagging, the 4-year-old Belgian Malinois acted no differently than any other pet who loves its owner.
Within minutes, however, the dog sat at attention, his ears perked and eyes fixed on the suspect — Sgt. Rob Heagerty –who Deputy William Sessa was patting down.
Before the deputy could utter a word, the dog took off, sinking his teeth into Heagerty’s right upper arm, which was protected by a training jacket. He had made the mistake of trying to fight Sessa.
“He’s not a mean dog; he’s not angry,” Forsyth County Sheriff Ron Freeman said as Heagerty maneuvered out of the jacket, the K-9 still latched onto the sleeve. “That’s a win for him — that’s him having fun.”
On Monday, deputies with the Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office K-9 unit introduced several of their dogs to the Citizens Law Enforcement Academy, or CLEA, participants, who, as part of the class, will be shown similar demonstrations by other agency divisions in upcoming weeks.
CLEA, a nine-week class that meets every Monday from 7-9 p.m., was brought to Forsyth County about 20 years ago, according to Freeman.
“This is a longstanding program at the sheriff’s office here in Forsyth County, dating back to 1997,” he said. “It’s just an opportunity for citizens to come in once a week who want to learn more about what we do at the sheriff’s office and how we operate and how we spend your tax dollars and the things that we do to keep this community safe.
“[CLEA] exposes a lot of the things people don’t see that we do. [Participants] get to see just how hard our men and women, these deputies and our civilian employees, are working every day, and it also opens people’s eyes.”
Freeman said the unit is one of the lesser-seen departments in the agency, simply due to the fact that there are only five patrol dogs and one explosives detection dog, a black Labrador named Edd.
The K-9s are also always with their specific handlers, who operate customized patrol vehicles that carry the dogs.
“They track, they apprehend and they do narcotics detection,” Heagerty said. “If you see that car, the dogs are in it. They work 12-hour shifts, and they live in our homes. Some other places store their dogs, but because ours do tracking and apprehension and narcotics detection, if I need that dog, I need it then, not 15 minutes later.”
The dogs, who come from Holland and respond to Dutch commands, are considered weapons, though the less lethal kind, like an officer’s Taser or baton.
“We don’t want a dog that goes in there and is basically like an alligator that bites everywhere,” Heagerty said. “The dog is going to cause injury, but we want that to be as little as possible. The dog will bite and then will come off [the suspect] either verbally — we will tell them to — or we’ll take them off.
“We want the suspect to comply and stop fighting or fleeing or whatever, but [none of] our dogs are lethal weapons. They all want to get out and be happy and work, and they want to be loved.”