JANESVILLE -- The Rock County Sheriff’s Office continues to prove that six legs are much better than two.
That’s because in January the office introduced two new patrol canines: Max, a 65-pound Belgian Malinois, and Gunny, a 70-pound German shepherd.
Max’s handler, Deputy Shawn Nolan, has experience with a four-legged partner after teaming up previously with his dog Dex, who recently retired.
Meanwhile, Gunny is the partner of Deputy Tara Nolan, who is Shawn’s half sister.
Program supervisor Sgt. Wayne Hansen couldn’t be happier with the early returns, because the siblings give the department three K9 pairs, joining Deputy Nathan DeBoer, who handles Sasha.
“It’s working out great with Max and Gunny,” Hansen said, adding that the three teams train twice a month. “Shawn Nolan is an experienced handler who has proven invaluable to our organization. He has been training with Max and Gunny since we obtained them, which eventually will lead to Shawn becoming a licensed trainer. Tara is experiencing being a handler for the first time with Gunny, and I am impressed with the way she handles him. Gunny is pretty even tempered, which makes him a great dog for a first-time handler. Max is a more active type of dog, which is great for Shawn. All three dogs are producing quality work in the field.”
Tara Nolan, 28, said it’s been an adventure, but everything has been positive so far for the Parkview High School alumnus, who received her associate degree and graduated from the law enforcement academy at Blackhawk Technical College.
“The first couple of weeks were a lot of bonding, and we continue to build that bond. There is a lot of responsibility and a lot of hard work that goes with being a K9 handler, but it also is one of the most rewarding challenges I have ever had.
“Gunny is a strong dog, and in the beginning of our training he literally dragged me all over the place,” she added. “Since then we’ve established obedience, but I definitely get a good arm workout from him. One thing I have learned is how to trust and read my dog. He knows what he is doing, and I am able to put a lot of trust in him because of how well we have bonded as a team.”
Although Shawn is 16 years older, Tara said following in his experienced footsteps has proven invaluable since joining the sheriff’s office in 2010 and especially with her newest assignment.
“Shawn always has had high expectations for me and he will not allow me to fail,” she said. “Shawn is driven and is very good at what he does, so I think I have one of the best mentors out there. If I did not have the guidance I have from him and Deputy DeBoer, being a K9 handler would be a whole lot more challenging, and I’m not sure it would be something I could do on my own.”
Shawn Nolan said that despite his experience, he has learned plenty from Tara and couldn’t be more proud to see her join the K9 program.
“It’s been pretty awesome watching Tara grow,” he said. “She’s got a great head on her shoulders, so when this opportunity came up I told her to put her name in and see what happens. When I started I was the first one, so we had to learn things on the fly. But after having a K9 partner for six years, I just needed to get Tara moving in the right direction. She’s learned to trust Gunny. And I’ve learned a lot about patience from her.”
That last attribute has come in handy while taking on another canine partner.
“Dex was 2 1/2 years old and a German shepherd, whereas Max is 18 months and is a Belgian Malinois,” Shawn Nolan said. “Max has a lot of energy. So, it has been like starting over in many ways, but you know it’s a slow, patient process. It’s a ton of work, but I enjoy it.”
Now his task is getting Max to become as reliable as Dex. The latter’s resume included finding an armed bank robber in the Brodhead area and tracking down a lost elderly gentleman in Beloit Township.
“Max already has assisted in 10 drug arrests, and that’s pretty good over about a month’s time,” Nolan added.
Those numbers continue a positive trend, and statistics Hansen provided prove just how much of an impact the effort has had on law enforcement throughout the county: In 2016, over 90 sniffs resulted in 52 drug arrests.
“These dogs and handlers have taken over 310 grams of marijuana, 202 grams of cocaine and 305.8 grams of meth off the streets,” said Hansen, a former K9 handler himself. “They also have apprehended two fleeing felons (burglars).”
Hansen said these successes would not have been possible without the support of Sheriff Robert Spoden. And the bottom line is that police officers and county residents are safer because of the K9 unit.
“The K9s are a tool for the handlers to do their job better,” Hansen said. “They are used for narcotic detection, tracking people, locating tossed/thrown objects (evidence) and handler protection. The K9 is the best partner a deputy will ever have. The K9 always will be there for you and will work to the best of their trained ability for you. These dogs make the deputy’s job easier and safer.
“They do demonstrations, which enlighten the public about what we do for our job,” Hansen added. “The K9s have been used to track lost children and elders with Alzheimer’s that have wandered away from home. They do building searches for alarm and burglar calls in which the deputy can stay behind cover.”
The Nolans know firsthand how significant these canines’ many contributions are.
“The biggest thing is simply Max’s presence,” said Shawn Nolan, who commanded Dex to sit, stay, come and fetch -- in German. “It doesn’t show up in any of the reports, but just knowing he’s there is huge. Having a K9 present eliminates 99.9 percent of any danger because it diffuses the situation. Having this unit has been huge to say the least.”
Tara Nolan couldn’t agree more.
“Having a K9 unit at the sheriff’s office enhances our abilities to do a number of things,” she said. “The amount of work the dogs can do is incredibly helpful to not just patrol, but S.W.A.T., detectives and our drug units. Our dogs are able to do things in minutes that it would take several deputies hours to do, such as search in long grass for a discarded gun or track a lost child. They allow us to find drugs that people normally would be able to hide or search buildings for a hidden person without endangering officers’ lives.”