K9 officers with the Greenfield Police Department Jason Havens and Jim  Leeth, and Hillsboro Police Department Officer Chuck Milligan are shown  with their dogs Dexi, Sando and Chris. (HCP photo by Brandy Chandler.)
K9 officers with the Greenfield Police Department Jason Havens and Jim Leeth, and Hillsboro Police Department Officer Chuck Milligan are shown with their dogs Dexi, Sando and Chris. (HCP photo by Brandy Chandler.)

When law enforcement officers take to the streets, while on patrol or investigating crimes, they put their lives in the trust of their partners while putting their lives on the line.

For the officers of two local police departments, they say partners don’t come any better than their four-legged co-workers.

Officers Jim Leeth and Jason Havens of the Greenfield Police Department and Officer Chuck Milligan of the Hillsboro Police Department are K9 officers, and train weekly their respective dogs Sando, Chris and Dexi.

“He is my partner. There is no better partner you could have,” Leeth said.

Milligan said, “You only get one chance when you’re in the field against the bad guys.”

Officer Dustin Malone also has a dog unit with the GPD, and they all work with the K9 unit at the Highland County Sheriff’s Office.

While the officers are required to train weekly with their dogs, the officers train as often as possible, with group training sessions regularly. While some dogs have training for individual skills, these three can perform drug searches, tracking, or do a takedown of a suspect.

In one training element, Havens took off running, and on Leeth’s command, Sando chased him down, biting into a padded protective arm. With the one-word order from Leeth, Sando released and went immediately went back to his handler, wagging his tail.

Each of the dogs respond to a command in a different foreign language, which prevents the dogs responding to key command words if a suspect should attempt to control the dog. When they’re not on the jobs, Sando, Chris and Dexi become family pets, and each one has their own personality.

“They’re not mean dogs,” Milligan said. “That’s a misconception people have. When I go out of town, my mother takes care of my dog.”

Havens said that he once found his little girl playing with Dexi, and realized that she was doing a “drug” sweep with the dog.

“There, of course, were no drugs out. But I heard my daughter saying, ‘check here. Good girl. Check here.’ And I turned around and Dexi is walking next to my daughter, and the dog goes and checks absolutely everywhere she wants her to check. She is a very easy dog to work with.”

Like any pet, Sando, Chris and Dexi crave affection and praise, and think of their training as a game. While practicing drug sweeps, and attacks, their reward is a vigorous pat on the head, or a hug, and constant praise. And lots of tennis balls to chase.

The Greenfield program was developed when Leeth and Havens came up with a proposal to purchase dogs for the Greenfield department, at no cost to the city. Most of the funding came from their own pockets. As the years have gone by, there have been donations that have contributed to the program, along with budgetary dollars. But the officers continue to front many costs, from training to equipment.

Leeth said, “The 20 to 30 hours (of training) that we put in a month is our time,” Leeth said.

Training days have similar elements, but the agendas are often switched up in order to keep their dogs on their toes.

“We’re always trying to trick them,” Milligan said, as the three dogs were trying out new training equipment where their favorite toys were hidden inside a plastic box. They had to detect the toy, and after a moment, the toy was shot into the air and chased down by the individual dogs. “But they usually win.”

When it comes to putting in the extra hours, the officers say that they want to go the extra mile because they know it helps keep Highland County residents – including their own families – safer.

Havens said, “Basically, it’s a trust thing. The dog has to trust the handler to point them in the right direction. Of course, we have to trust them, that what they’re doing is the right thing.”

“To clean up the community, that is the biggest thing. To get the drugs off the streets. The heroin we’re fighting, it’s ruining our kids. So if we can have a tool, plus the protection they give officers, you just can’t beat their protection. He is my partner. I trust him more than anyone else around.”