By Sandi Latimer, Staff Writer
The newest member of the West Jefferson Police force weighs 76 pounds, speaks his own language, and needs help putting on his uniform.
He answers to the name “Arc,” understands German and English, and was so well trained that he knew exactly what to do on his first assignment after becoming a member of the force on Aug. 26.
Arc, who will be 3 in December, is a full-blooded German shepherd, born in Frankfort, Germany, and trained for police work, including sniffing out drugs. He is the first K-9 member of the West Jefferson Police Department and one of only two K-9 units on duty in Madison County, the other being a member of the Madison County Sheriff’s Office.
According to Sgt. Brandon Smith, Arc’s handler, it is not unusual for K-9 units to have a foreign background.
“Most of the dogs are imported, but a few stateside trainers are beginning to get into breeding and raising dogs for those purposes,” he said.
Smith went through six weeks of training to get ready for Arc, “and by the second week, I had to know my commands in German,” he said. Those commands are the only German words Smith knows.
As new partners, Smith and Arc appear to be communicating well. For his first assignment, Arc sniffed a vehicle for drugs and made a passive indication, Smith said. That means that when Arc detected drugs, he sat down and looked at Smith.
“That’s the way he was trained,” Smith said. “Some dogs are trained to paw when they detect something.”
Arc can sniff out six to eight drugs, including marijuana, heroin, crack cocaine, uppers, and a new drug known as Molly. He also can switch in and out of attack mode on command as situations warrant.
To stay sharp, Smith regularly runs Arc through training exercises and, once a week, the duo joins other K-9 units at a facility in Sunbury where they go through additional training to keep their certifications up to date.
Between training exercises and answer-ing calls, Smith takes Arc out to meet members of the community.
“He was a hit at the Ox Roast parade,” he said.
Arc also is a hit with the individuals and business owners who donated the $15,000 needed to bring him from Germany to West Jefferson.
Donations continue to roll in. A Colorado couple donated their wedding money to the agency that provides the Kevlar jackets for K-9 units. That donation provided a bullet-proof jacket for Arc, Smith said.
The Madison County Sheriff’ Office donated a kennel for the back of a West Jefferson cruiser. “That saved us a bundle,” said Lt. Gary McNeal.
The West Jefferson Lions Club is holding fundraisers to help pay veterinary bills. Individuals and businesses from neighboring Franklin and Union counties also have contributed.
While the community has embraced Arc, for Smith, gaining a K-9 partner has been a life-changing experience. A dog lover who grew up with a Norwegian elkhound and Labrador retriever, Smith has Arc with him 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Together, they are on call at all hours, ready to protect the people of West Jeffer-son at a moment’s notice.