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Prison K-9s show their stuff

May 10, 2001

Prison K-9s show their stuff



By MARLO BARNHART

marlob@herald-mail.com

K-9 ShowPhoto: KEVIN G. GILBERT / staff photographer

People who work in and around prisons know that when there is trouble behind bars, the dogs are the first in and the last out.

Training man's best friend to protect, to find and retrieve contraband, to control crowds and to intimidate when necessary is a full-time job for six correctional officers at the K-9 training headquarters at the Maryland Correctional Institution south of Hagerstown.

"Our officers are on duty every day working long hours," said Capt. Mike Ocker, K-9 commander.

The three medium-security prisons south of Hagerstown house more than 6,000 inmates.

Demonstrations of the prowess of both the handlers and the dogs and tours of the headquarters building were among the activities at the prison Wednesday.

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Correctional officials attended along with Maryland State Sen. Donald F. Munson, R-Washington and Maryland State Delegate Christopher Shank, R-Washington.

The demonstrations and tours coincided with Public Safety and Correctional Employees' Week in Maryland, which ends Saturday.

The first demonstration consisted of one handler with his dog and another officer pretending to be a "bad guy."

Responding to voice command, the dog was ordered to capture the person who was wearing a special training sleeve to protect his body.

The dog let go of the "suspect" on voice command, retreated to the handler's side and sat down.

From a distance of 50 feet, Ocker and his dog, Soni, demonstrated sit and lie down, both by voice command and by silent hand command.

The dogs demonstrated how they follow both fast and slow, heel at the officer's right side and obey.

Soni also demonstrated locating a shotgun shell and a rubber knife in high grass, retrieving them for his handler.

Randy Mishler, assistant K-9 commander, recently got a new dog after his longtime companion, Champ, died of natural causes.

Sgt. Jerry Whitmore and his dog, Bak, have been in Hagerstown for a year. They demonstrated skill on the agility course, leaping barrels and finding suspects hiding in boxes.

The training facility has been in Hagerstown since 1981.

Most of the dogs are German Shepherds and some are Rottweilers. Many come from European training programs and are superior to most dogs trained in the United States, Ocker said.

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