The Mentor Police Department’s K9 Unit was established in 1981. Since then, twelve dogs and their handlers have served the Police Department and the community as specially trained and valuable assets. Currently, the Mentor Police K9 Unit consists of two operational teams: Officer Terry Wurgler and K9 Titan and Officer Bill Mackey and K9 Bo. Lieutenant Dan Molnar and Sergeant Scott Tkach oversee the operation of the unit.
After the untimely death of K-9 Niko and the retirement of Officer Gunton and his partner, K-9, Deuce, both in early 2011, the Mentor Police Department had no working K-9 teams. The Mentor Police Department had to rely upon other area police departments and the use of their K-9 Units for mutual aid assistance. During the late Summer of 2011, the Department began the process of replacing the two teams. Officer Terry Wurgler and Officer Bill Mackey were chosen to become the newest K9 handlers.
Through a donation by the honorable Judge John Trebets and the Mentor Municipal Court, the first German Shepherd was purchased. Officer Wurgler was the first to prepare and train. Officer Wurgler and his partner , K9 Titan, trained at Shallow Creek Kennels, located in Sharpsville, Pennsylvania. They became a certified Police K9 team in December 2011.
In the Spring of 2012, through additional donations and city funding, a second German Shepherd was purchased. Officer Mackey and his partner K9 Bo, also prepared and trained at Shallow Creek Kennels. They became a certified Police K9 team in May 2012.
The K9 Unit serves as a support unit for any officer needing K9 assistance. The K9 teams also assist the Mentor Police S.W.A.T. Team in tactical operations as well. In addition to the Mentor Police Department, the K9 Unit is also available to assist other law enforcement agencies through mutual aid requests.
History of Mentor K9 Teams
- Patrolman Jim Watson – K9 Thor and K9 Coco
- Patrolman Chuck Bissler – K9 Baron
- Patrolman John Koval – K9 Jake
- Patrolman Mike Cicchinelli – K9 Mandon
- Patrolman Ed Zigman – K9 Buster
- Patrolman Scott Doran – K9 Sandy
- Patrolman Ron Gunton – K9 Thunder and K9 Deuce
- Patrolman Chris Ivanovics – K9 Cello
- Patrolman Rich Gerber – K9 Bronco
- Patrolman Joe Primiano – K9 Niko
Mentor’s K9 teams undergo intensive training before being assigned to patrol duty. In accordance with Ohio law, Mentor’s K9 teams are certified every two years by the Ohio Peace Officers Training Council. Additionally, they are certified each year by the North American Police Work Dog Association (NAPWDA). Once certified for street duty, the K9 teams are trained continuously throughout their careers, in the latest handling techniques and legal updates. The doctors and staff at Lakeshore Animal Hospital provide veterinary care for the dogs, as they have since the inception of the Mentor Police K9 Unit.
The dogs live at home with their handlers and become members of the family like any ordinary dog. Mentor K9 officers are on call 24 hours a day and are assigned take home cars so they can respond directly from home if needed. These cars are specially equipped for the Officers’ K9 partners. After the back seat has been removed, the cars are outfitted with aluminum kennel inserts that provide a comfortable and safe means of transporting the dogs. These inserts are equipped with cooling fans, water bowls and tinted glass to keep the dogs comfortable. Additionally, the cars have an electronic system that constantly monitors the temperature inside the patrol car and alerts the handler if it becomes too hot. This system also has a feature that allows the handler to remotely release the K9 from the car to come to his assistance if needed.
K – 9 Duties
Mentor’s K-9 teams are trained as “dual-purpose” teams. This means that they are trained in both detection and utility/patrol disciplines. There are several different types of detection dogs—Mentor’s are trained in narcotics detection. By teaching the dogs to associate the odor of narcotics with praise and play, we are able to generate a high level of interest in the dogs to find narcotic odor. They are trained to find illegal drugs in a wide variety of places where criminals might try to hide them. These places range from the interior and exterior of vehicles to inside different types of buildings, parcels, lockers or any other type of container where drugs may be hidden. When the K-9 detects narcotic odor, he “tells” his handler by digging and scratching at the point where the odor is the strongest.
The utility/patrol phases include numerous tasks as outlined below:
Every moment of every day, human beings shed dead skin cells known as “rafts.” Each person has a distinctly different scent based upon that person’s age, gender, diets, laundry detergent, body soap, etc. By placing the K9 at the point where a missing or fleeing person was last seen, on command the K9 will begin scouring the ground for fresh scent. Once the track is established, the K9 is trained to follow that particular scent, ignoring human and animal cross-tracks, until the K9 locates the person who left the scent, or the scent disappears, such as if the person got into a vehicle.
If a suspect hides himself in a building or outdoor area such as a field, junkyard or woods, the K9 can be directed to locate the suspect’s scent by air scenting. The K9 will then home in on the suspect’s location and will hold the suspect until the handler arrives to assist. Warnings are given before releasing the K9 to allow the suspects to surrender, or to allow authorized persons to make themselves known.
Similar to building and area search, the K9 is trained to locate items that have human scent on them. This is often used to locate items with evidentiary value that may have been thrown away by a suspect. Mentor K9’s have located various items ranging from jewelry up to assault rifles.
This is what some people refer to as “attack” work. The term “attack” creates a very negative image of a vicious, unapproachable animal. This is simply not the case. Today’s K9 is a very disciplined, controlled animal—handled by a professional. Although the K9 is trained to bite on command or to protect his handler, it is important to note that these dogs are also trained not to bite and are very tolerant of noise and other distractions, including animated actions of small children. Although the dogs are very formidable when so commanded, it is rare that the dogs are actually required to bite a person. Most often, the mere presence of the K9 is sufficient to produce compliance from a suspect. The dogs are very useful in controlling people at scenes of fights and other disturbances that can be very dangerous for responding officers. Although they are completely approachable, it is always best to first ask the handler before approaching any dog—K9, or not. Unless the team is on or en route to a call for service, the handler will be happy to let you meet his partner and will answer any questions you may have.
The teams are very involved in Mentor’s Community Policing program and can often be found walking and speaking with citizens in public places such as shopping areas, schools, parks and special events. These high profile patrols with the dogs often result in conversations between citizens and officers that otherwise, would not have occurred. The Unit also conducts public demonstrations throughout the year where people can see the dogs at work.