Osceola County Sheriff's Office training two K9 dogs

REED CITY  — Neither the bark or the bite of the two newest Osceola County Sheriff's Office deputies is very intimidating, at least not yet.

To replace the current, aging K9 officers, the sheriff's office recently acquired two puppies to train and fill the veterans' spots.

Deputy Jed Avery is the handler for K9 Ryker, who will take over for K9 Bary, and Sgt. Mark Moore trains K9 Chase, who will replace K9 Justice.

Ryker and Chase, both Dutch Shepherds, will be narcotics dogs. They also will be able to track and go on patrol with their officers.

"We've just had them for about two weeks, so they're getting their routines down," Avery said. "I'm starting to work with Ryker on human odor and ground disturbances for tracking. Eventually, we will start bite work and narcotics work."

For now, a lot of what's being done is the basics because everything is new to the dogs. To socialize Ryker, Avery attempts to have the puppy meet at least one new person a day, taking him to various environments such as local schools and dog groomers.

With the older K9s set to retire next year — Bary is 10 years old, while Justice will soon be 11 years old —the rookies have a lot to learn.

"Ryker follows Bary around a lot and Bary is teaching him boundaries, manners in the patrol car, such as when to bark, and just day-to-day stuff," Avery said. "It will be very important for Ryker to watch Bary when we do bite work training, so he can get excited about the game because that's all it really is to them."

While Avery admits it may be ambitious, he and Moore are hopeful Chase and Ryker will be fully trained in nine months and ready for duty in a year.

With Avery working the day shift and Moore working at night, the county has 24-hour K9 coverage. Avery believes the K9 units are a valuable law enforcement tool for many reasons.

"The saying goes that when citizens need help they call the police and when police need help they call the K9s," Avery explained. "K9s have been around for 100 years and there is not a tool that has been made to replace them with all the advances in technology."

K9s can pick up the slack and help fill the gaps in smaller departments, he added.

By training the new K9s themselves, the Osceola County Sheriff's Office is saving thousands of dollars. For the past eight years in anticipation of one day replacing Justice and Bary, fundraisers have been hosted and donations collected, which covered the cost of purchasing the new dogs.

The bond between Bary and Avery is undeniable, and something Avery hopes to also have with Ryker.

"Since I've had Bary we've been apart a total of three weeks in eight years," Avery said. "I take him everywhere. He's with me more than my family. Honestly, he's my best friend. How lucky am I to work with my best friend?"