Switzerland County Sheriff’s Department is going to the dogs

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There are two new officers reporting for duty at the Switzerland County Sheriff’s Department.

“Jinx” is a Belgian Malinois who’s a little hyper and very ready to go to work.

“Ben” is a German Shepherd who seems a little more laid back, but when you look into his eyes, everyone knows that he’s serious about his job.

“Jinx” and “Ben” are the two new canine officers that have become a part of the Switzerland County Sheriff’s Department, and Sheriff Nathan Hughes says that the duo are already paying dividends for his officers.

“The main reason that we got the dogs was because of the drug problems in the area,” Sheriff Hughes said. “They’ve already assisted the Indiana State Police and they’ve been to Jefferson County. They are the biggest tool that we’ve got to work on this problem.”

But the two are more than drug dogs.

Handlers Walter Vinson (Jinx) and Chris Curry (Ben) say that both dogs are dual purpose dogs, and are constantly undergoing training to provide more services to the officers.

Both dogs are certified in finding narcotics and tracking; as well as criminal apprehension. They can also perform building searches and area searches looking for both narcotics and suspects.

“Both dogs will also be able to look for evidence,” Walter Vinson said. “For instance if we are chasing a suspect and he throws a weapon or evidence out into a field. The dogs will be able to go out and look for that.”

Walter Vinson said that Jinx is already training in evidence search; and Ben is currently being trained.

Being a part of a canine team takes dedication on the part of the dog, but it also takes a lot of dedication on the part of the deputy who is assigned to work with the animal.

Chris Curry and Ben recently attended a five-week training course at a facility in Denver, Indiana; where they worked together five days a week. He got Ben in the first part of July, and Ben is 2 1/2-years old.

Walter Vinson is a certified dog trainer – a big plus for the local department. He has had Jinx since the dog was eight weeks old; and has been training him all along the way.

Although Indiana does not have a canine officer certification program; Walter Vinson and Jinx went through the certification process for the State of Ohio – passing all requirements. Ben is certified through the American Working Dog Association.

The dogs also live with the officers at their homes when off duty, and are with them constantly while on duty. Because of the intricate relationship that is developed between a dog and its handler, the dogs are not moved between officers – they are always with Officers Vinson and Curry.

Both dogs and handlers had been participating in weekly training exercises along with handlers and dogs from other departments in the area; but now that the weather is turning colder, those training programs are now taking place every other week. Both officers also work with their dogs everyday on a one-on-one level.

Walter Vinson got his Master Trainer certification in 1995, and his expertise has been invaluable to the department as they work to find additional ways to use the dogs during daily duties.

“When we have something happen that requires one of the dogs, if they aren’t on duty, our officer brings them to the scene and they go to work,” Sheriff Hughes said. “We are already seeing results from having them here.”

Although much of the work that the dogs do and their training is confidential to the department; the officers and the animals are also available to come to schools or events to talk about the work that the teams do and the training that was involved.

Anyone wanting to know more about the canine program, or who would like to schedule a visit by one of the teams, should contact Sheriff Nathan Hughes at 427-3636.