Carroll Police Officer Justin Ferrin works a basement training simulation with his K-9 Eudoris in Chariton this month.
Carroll Police Officer Justin Ferrin works a basement training simulation with his K-9 Eudoris in Chariton this month.

December 1, 2017

CHARITON

In a darkened, chilly house, a man slips through a hole in the floor to hide.

The cops are looking for him, but it’s dark, and he’s out of sight.

Then, suddenly, a shout — a young, strong dog has him by the leg.

On this day, the man is wearing a protective “bite suit” — so he’s not injured, and he’ll spend tonight at home rather than in jail.

But now, when two young dogs go through the same process in Carroll County, it’ll be real.

Both the Carroll Police Department and the Carroll County Sheriff’s Office added K-9 officers to their forces this past week. Their handlers are Carroll Police Officer Justin Ferrin, who has been with the department for almost three years, and Carroll County Sheriff’s Deputy Andrew Smaldone, who has been with the department about two years.

The Belgian Malinois dogs, still less than a year old, are brothers from the same litter — but what’s more, they’re genetically identical dogs, part of a new dog-cloning venture by trainer Joshua Morton.

Morton, who owns Canine Tactical in Chariton, just spent five weeks working with Ferrin and Smaldone and the dogs they’ll be working with, both named Eudoris after the dog whose skin tissue was used to create them. Prior to those five weeks, Morton spent months training the dogs.

The police dog will retain the name Eudoris, but the sheriff’s office has renamed its dog Ruger. The four-legged officers are considered members of the departments and will be on duty whenever Ferrin and Smaldone are working. The dogs live with the officers when they’re not working.

The K-9s are trained in a variety of tasks.

They can detect drugs.

They are trained in “subject apprehension” — whether that’s someone running from the police or a missing person.

They can search houses, schools, jails and other buildings.

They are trained to protect their handler.

And they can track down articles, such as drugs or a gun thrown from a car or during a chase on foot.

The departments will work together with the K-9s when necessary, whether by having one officer work with the other department when its dog and handler are off-duty and a dog is needed, or by having both officers and dogs work together on larger needs, such as searching for a person in an expansive area.

The dogs and their handlers also will work with law-enforcement counties in nearby cities and counties as needed.

The sheriff’s office retired its former K-9 officer, Ike, in September because of health problems, but the police department hasn’t had a K-9 in about a decade, Carroll Police Chief Brad Burke said. The department’s last dog was named Flash.

They have this one because of a recent initiative by Carroll High School sophomores, a “problem-solution” project undertaken by students of Becky Boes each year. Four students — Kayd Nissen, Tyler Comstock, Marko Kuach and Tyler Tunning — decided this past year to raise money for a K-9 for the police department. With the assistance of some local businesses and members of the community who got involved, they raised more than enough to pay to train the dog and its handler, to outfit a vehicle to carry the dog, an estimated $20,000 cost.

The remaining dollars will stay in a fund used specifically for the dog; it could cover veterinary costs or supplies in the future. Those interested can continue to donate to the department to support the K-9 program.

“The main thing is a big thanks to the kids,” Burke said. “If they hadn’t started this, it never would have happened. The public support was overwhelming.”

The sheriff’s office paid for its dog but already had the equipment and vehicle needed.

“I think it’s a huge necessity in the county for the work we do,” Carroll County Sheriff Ken Pingrey said. “We’ve seen increases with pursuits and foot chases, and just the presence of the dog, I think it’s a big deterrent — whether on an assault on an officer or if someone is thinking about fleeing.

“If we can use the dog once or twice to find a missing person or save an officer from bodily harm, it’s worth it.”

Although the dogs are beautiful, as Mayor Eric Jensen said at a recent City Council meeting, residents shouldn’t reach out to touch.

“The main thing to remember is don’t go up and try to pet the dog,” Burke said. “Ask the handler what you can do. The dog’s pretty friendly for the most part, but it’s trained to protect the handler, so don’t try to pet the dog without permission.”

Early on in their training, the officers learned to take care of their dogs, whether through sickness or a stab wound or gunshot.

They practiced tracking in woods, through tall grass and creeks. The dogs learned to remain calm while their handlers are firing guns.

“What surprised me most is (Eudoris) turned 10 months old while we were training, and it surprised me a lot how far along and intelligent they are for their age,” Ferrin said. “He’s an awesome dog. He’s very focused — for his age, it’s crazy how focused he is. … He just enjoys working, which is amazing.”

Morton, a Des Moines native, has run Canine Tactical in Iowa since 2012. Prior to that, he was the first member of his Navy SEAL group, which included four teams, to develop and run a K-9 program. He worked with K-9s during multiple deployments to Iraq, using them to search houses and complete a variety of tasks.

He translated the skills he’d developed as a SEAL into training home-protection and law-enforcement dogs after looking into other programs in the U.S. and believing he could bring something different to the table.

“If I did it other ways, I would have died, or other guys would have died, or dogs would have died, so trust me when I say you should do it this way,” he said. “I’ve lived it — I’ve made these mistakes.”

The dogs are clones, created by using skin samples from a dog Morton calls “Eudoris Actual” that were implanted into a female dog’s eggs and carried and delivered by the surrogate dog.

It’s an early venture for Morton, who said he’s the only trainer in the United States doing this type of work right now. He works with dog-cloning company ViaGen.

“These two are the first cloned working dogs on the law-enforcement side,” Morton said. “It’s a big deal.”

Morton, who does some breeding and also trains dogs from other kennels, plans to eventually phase into working only with cloned dogs.

As part of their ongoing training with Morton during the coming year, Ferrin and Smaldone will provide him with information and data about their use of the dogs in work situations, whether it’s drug searches or tracking down a running person.

Morton will use that data to track how the dogs are working and to provide information about the cloning services for future law-enforcement teams.

The K-9 teams’ everyday work will serve as further training, Morton said.

“It’s not all roses in the field, and the dog does amazing,” he said. “When I get them back (for additional training), they say, ‘This is what I did in the real world and what happened,’ and I set the training up so they don’t fail again. The real-world environment is all I care about. I do not care about training stats.”

Morton’s company includes a large training facility and kennels, as well as a repurposed house in Chariton that provides a different environment for simulations.

The house’s basement and crawl spaces provide a place for dogs to search for a hiding person in spots that are more difficult for an officer to access.

Jimmy Moore, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran who trains dogs with Morton, often works as a decoy, serving as the criminal in simulations that taught the dogs and handlers how to work together.

The officers are trained to support the dog during a search, whether by adding light or pointing the dog to a different area once a spot has been cleared.

“We don’t just release the dog and stand here and say, ‘I hope the dog de-escalates this; I hope the dog handles it,’” Morton said. “You’re using the dog as a tool.”

During a recent training day, as Moore hid beneath an open floorboard, Ferrin and Smaldone, one at a time, took their dogs into the house’s basement, lifted them into a crawl space and turned on a powerful flashlight to help light their way.

They knew their dogs had been successful when Moore shouted. Then it was back upstairs to release the dogs, praise them and arrest Moore.

Later, Moore hid behind a couch. The dogs entered the room and began to scent. There was no one in the doorways, no one behind the piano, no one in the corners, no one behind an armchair — although they did smell the drugs that were hidden there the day before.

One of the dogs placed its front paws on the piano as he searched, the thunderous music interrupting the tense silence.

The handlers shined light into the room, creeping in as the dogs cleared one area, then the next.

Eventually, the dogs smelled Moore and bounded behind the couch, holding him in place until he was apprehended.

“This happened to me overseas a lot,” Morton said. “People will hide in spaces where they can fit, and there’s not a visual for the officer. The dog can help clear the room. I can take five seconds and clear this room, but it’s these small spaces that I’m going to need a little help with.”

It didn’t always go perfectly, but that’s why they ran through the scenarios a second time, and a third.

“These dogs are good,” Morton said. “Once they get it, they get it.”

The dogs are another tool the officers are able to use — often a last resort.

“Ultimately, if we can find the suspect first and give him the opportunity — you don’t have to use the dog,” Morton said.

The dogs are on duty with Ferrin and Smaldone now.

If any situation comes up, I know Eudoris will protect myself and others on the department,” Ferrin said. “I’m very appreciate of the opportunity.”