Like many fresh-faced law enforcement officers, one of the newest members of the Tooele County Sheriff’s office is energetic, enthusiastic and keeps her eye on the ball.
Except the ball for K-9 Lilly isn’t metaphorical. It’s real, rubber and at the end of a rope so it’s ready for a game of tug.
Lilly, a 2-year-old Dutch shepherd, is trained in both narcotics and patrol, with her double certifications achieved by mid-August. Her handler, Deputy Michael Warner, put her through her paces with a quick seek-the-narcotics training on Wednesday, which Lilly enthusiastically completed in exchange for a tug session with her favorite toy.
“It all starts with the ball,” Warner said. “They teach the dog to hunt for the ball. Then eventually they put a narcotic odor with the ball so then they start incorporating that together. Then they’re hunting solely for the narcotic and then they get paid, is what we call it, with the ball.”
While Lilly sniffed out marijuana during Wednesday’s training, she is trained on a number of different narcotics and will be trained on more, according to Warner.
In her patrol duties, Lilly will respond to search warrants, barricaded suspects, traffic stops and other police responsibilities. Warner said K-9s are classified as a less-than-lethal response, like stun guns.
Since starting, Lilly has already assisted Utah Highway Patrol on a traffic stop that netted methamphetamine and assisted on a barricaded fugitive.
Tooele County Sheriff Lt. Travis Scharmann said Lilly can also be used in the Tooele County Detention Center for crowd control and intimidation for inmates who won’t return to their cells.
“We’ve had scenarios back there where inmates won’t rack in … but the dog comes in, it’s a whole different story,” Scharmann said.
Warner said he thinks a K-9 is vital to any law enforcement agency. The sheriff’s office hasn’t had its own K-9 since the early 2000s, according to Scharmann.
“It’s a very useful tool,” Warner said. “You can stop a lot of situations where you have to use force just by having the dog’s presence or even just bringing up the fact that a dog will be on the way.”
The sheriff’s office is paying for Lilly now, but is looking for grant funding or other sources to help cover the costs, Scharmann said. Money was donated for a vest, boots and other protective gear for Lilly, Warner said.
Like any good police dog, Lilly can easily switch between work and play, according to Warner.
“She’s sweet until it’s time to get to work,” he said. “I’ve got a 4-year-old boy at home. Obviously I control the environment; I’m with him all the time. But he’ll play fetch with her all day. She just made her first appearance at a preschool this morning and the kids all got to pet her and love on her.”
Lilly is expected to be on patrol for the next 5 to 7 years. She’s required to train with Warner on narcotics and patrol for eight hours every week.
“You think about all the deployments that they’re put on,” Warner said. “I mean, they work the same crazy hours we do and the training … Seven years is a pretty good time to keep a dog on the road.”