Officer Matt Wilkinson has always been a dog person.
So when the opportunity arose to become one of the Metro Transit Police Department’s new K-9 handlers, he took it. And since late-October he’s been side-by-side with Carlo, one of three Belgian Malinois the department recently acquired to expand its K-9 Unit.
“I’ve got a couple of dogs at home already but having him is a lot different because he’s super high-energy and has such a super high drive to work,” Wilkinson said during a recent break from training at the Hiawatha Operations & Maintenance Facility. “It’s almost a 24-hour kind of deal working with him.”
But Wilkinson and the other new K-9 officers – Jason Michaud and Erica Fossand – all agree working with their new companions has quickly proven to be one of the most rewarding moves of their careers.
And if anything, they say, it’s the dogs who are training them.
“Handling is completely more work than I ever imagined because I don’t want to get in his way, and there are a lot of things I can do to disrupt him from doing his job,” said Fossand, her K-9 Nico sitting calmly beside her.
Imported from Holland with help from the St. Paul Police Department, the K-9’s were trained to detect and point out explosive materials before being brought to Minnesota. The officers are going through an eight-week training course and will begin their patrols in early 2017.
As part of their training, the officers and K-9s spent a recent morning at the OMF looking for odors that had been planted around a train. The dogs are taught to alert the handler when they discover one of around 21 differently potentially explosive odors.
In practice, Metro Transit’s K-9s spend most of their time at rail stations and large events proactively patrolling. The K9 unit can also be called out for suspicious packages or to assist other agencies.
As the officers are quickly learning, the K-9s are eager to work, too.
“It’s not 6-4, it’s all the time,” said Michaud, whose K-9 companion, Jack, is the smallest and most energetic of the new group. “You can just see how much energy he has.”
With the latest additions, Metro Transit’s K-9 Unit has expanded to seven officers. Other members include Scott Tinucci and his K-9 Merle; Larry Wright and his K-9 Rocky; and Josh Scharber and his K-9 Rusty. The department’s older K-9s are all labs.
The department is supervised by Sgt. Jeremy Rausch.
Carlo, Nico and Jack are expected to work for at least a decade, so the new officers have all made a long-term commitment to their new companion. But as close as they’ll likely become, there will be some obvious differences from previous partners.
“My human partners don’t sit in the back and bark at every car that goes by,” Michaud said. “So that’s different.”
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