Thanks to the foresight of department administration, the continuous generosity of the Bierman Family Foundation and the motivation of two like-minded deputies; as of the week of June 19, the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office welcomed the arrival of K9 deputies ‘Nina’-a two-year old purebred German Shepherd-and ‘Poncho’-a 2 ½ year old purebred German Shepherd-fresh out of training from Vohne Liche Kennels in Denver, IN..
Friday afternoon, Lincoln County Sheriff Jeff Jaeger and Chief Deputy Nate Walrath held a ‘meet and greet’ with the new deputies as well as their handlers; Deputies Sam Steckbauer (a 10 year department veteran)
and Joel Prahl (a 2 year department veteran).
Steckbauer and Prahl joined their four-legged partners for 6 weeks of training at Von Liche, beginning in late May.
“This is something I’ve always wanted to do,” Steckbauer said.
“Being a K9 handler has always been a career goal since I started working in law enforcement,”
“I love dogs and always hoped to become a K9 handler at some point. But being I’m one of the newest deputies to apply for it, I really didn’t think I would be selected. It’s an honor and I’m looking forward to working with him (Poncho).”
Both dogs were specifically bred for work in law enforcement, are originally from Hungary, arrived together at the kennels in December of last year, and take commands in Dutch.
While they share many of the same characteristics, they greatly differ in size. Nina, being a female is much smaller than Poncho; weighing approximately 60 pounds. Her male counterpart weighs just over 100 pounds according to Prahl.
The dogs also display similar personalities in terms of being quite playful and social when off-duty. However, both deputies admit that all changes when their partners observe them don their uniforms and duty gear.
“When Poncho sees me getting ready for work, it’s like a flip switches,” Deputy Prahl explains.
“He goes from being playful to all about business. If I open the front door of my house he immediately runs to the squad and waits for me.”
Both dogs are trained in narcotic detection, tracking, handler protection and apprehension. Although the pair has only been on the job a few weeks; they have already proven their skills more than once.
On just her second day on duty, Deputy Nina’s assistance was requested and she successfully tracked down a male suspect who had fled from Merrill officers in a local cemetery. The following week, Poncho made a successful drug-find on a traffic stop and two weeks ago; assisted in convincing a male who had barricaded himself in a residence, to obey officer commands and exit to be taken into custody.
“The dogs will prove a tremendous tool for us in providing effective law enforcement service to the citizens of Lincoln County,” Sheriff Jeff Jaeger stated.
“The motivation has been there for a while for us to acquire a K9 unit. But as what happens sometimes with tight budgets; was a question of funding. The county just could not afford to purchase a dog, the training and the necessary equipment. We had to rely on other dogs from other jurisdictions to assist us if we needed them and often times there would be a wait involved, or sometimes a dog may not be working on a given day or night.”
Then around the middle of last year Jaeger and department administration began discussions with the Bierman Family Foundation on various options. On October 13 of last year, Jaeger learned of the Foundation awarding a donation to cover not only the purchase of both dogs, but their training, as well as necessary equipment.
“I couldn’t believe it!” Jaeger said.
“We had discussed three different options, with both dogs and all expenses covered being the third option. We never expected to be approved for both, we are very grateful to the Bierman Family Foundation for their generosity.”
The four deputies will be working various shifts with the goal to have 24/7 K9 coverage in the county.