By Denise Richardson
The Daily Star
---- — Monday was the first day on the job for a recently graduated law enforcement team.
Otsego County Deputy Keith Sheldon and K-9 Ricky graduated last week from the state police Basic Canine Handler School in Cooperstown and started work Monday.
“I’m excited,’’ Sheldon said, as Ricky lay alertly nearby. “I hope we can be productive for the county.’’
Sheldon, who has been a deputy since February 2008, said starting work with a canine partner fulfills goals dating to the time when his uncle, Hank Sheldon, worked as an Otsego deputy and K-9 handler with a German shepherd named Pete.
Sheldon and K-9 Ricky were among 12 teams that graduated from Basic Canine Handler School during a ceremony at the State Police Academy in Albany last week. The graduates included troopers and members of the Albany County Sheriff’s Office and Schenectady Police Department.
In the local four-county area, graduate Trooper Patrick Darling and K-9 Ceer will serve from the Latham station, which covers Schoharie County.
During the 20-week program, students and their dogs were trained in basic obedience and agility skills, handler protection, building searches, tracking for fugitives or lost or missing persons, and more.
Sheldon and K-9 Ricky are the second K-9 team to join the Otsego County Sheriff’s Office this year. Deputy Kristopher Solovitch and K-9 Mika graduated from the program in March.
Otsego County Sheriff Richard Devlin said the department had three K-9 units in the mid-1980s. Last year, K-9 Marty died after serving the county nine years. Marty’s partner was Deputy Stan Cade.
K-9 units are “definitely a valuable resource,’’ Devlin said. K-9 units locally have been key in searches for lost children, he said, and the Otsego K-9 units are available to assist other law enforcement agencies.
Sheldon and Solovitch are two of 12 uniformed patrol deputies in the department, which also has two supervisors and two investigators, Devlin said.
Each dog has a specialty. Mika is trained to identify explosives, including firearms.
As a “narcotics dog,” Ricky can sniff out drugs, including heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine and marijuana, Sheldon said. After finding a drug, Ricky gives an alert by scratching at the source, Sheldon said, and the dog is rewarded with a favorite toy.
Ricky, an 18-month-old German shepherd, is named after Otsego County Investigator Ricky Yerdon, who died unexpectedly June 30, 2008. Yerdon served the county as an investigator for the district attorney, a deputy and a corrections officer.
Mika’s namesake is Army Cpl. Michael L. Mayne of Burlington Flats, who died Feb. 23, 2009, from wounds resulting from an insurgent attack in Balad, Iraq.
Devlin said the dogs were donated by a breeder, and there isn’t a cost to the department for training other than the time of the deputy. Most veterinarian services are donated, he said, leaving the only expense of the K-9 program an occasional bag of dog food.
A K-9 unit typically serves between seven and nine years, Devlin said, and his department has no plans to have more than two units.
The county’s explosives detection K-9 program was implemented through a $50,000 grant awarded by the state’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Services. With the grant, the department acquired a specially equipped sport utility vehicle, training and equipment for the dog’s handler.
Sheldon, 30, born in Cooperstown, graduated from Cherry Valley-Springfield Central School in 2000 and from Herkimer County Community College in 2002. He worked as a corrections officer before becoming a deputy.
As a road patrol team, Sheldon said he and K-9 Ricky will conduct vehicle-and-traffic stops, answer complaints and respond to other assignments. Ricky is a “great dog’’ that performs his skills well, Sheldon said.
K-9 school started July 9, Sheldon said, and he and Ricky have been together 24/7 since meeting July 18.
“I’m a dog person,” Sheldon said. “It’s an instant attachment.”