DNR law enforcement K-9 program hits 100 dog graduations

By: - May 25, 2023 6:45 am

An officer from Kansas picks up a K-9 on Thursday, May 25, 2023. (Leslie Bonilla Muñiz/Indiana Capital Chronicle.)

The Indiana Department of Natural Resource’s law enforcement wing graduated seven canine-handler teams on Thursday, hitting 100 dog graduates across the K-9 conservation program’s 25-year history.

Dogs pulled excitedly at their leashes as their handlers loped across the Statehouse’s South Lawn to collect a certificate, a handshake and a celebratory photograph. DNR officials outfitted the canine graduates — tails wagging furiously — with new collars.

Seven canine-officer teams graduated Thursday, May 25, 2023. (Courtesy DNR)

DNR Director Dan Bortner called the teams an “integral part of our total law enforcement efforts.” He spoke before graduates, family members, colleagues and numerous Indiana officers, squinting into the sun.

DNR launched its K-9 program in 1997 with a two-team pilot. Since then, the teams have been deployed more than 8,500 times, resulting in nearly 2,500 arrests, according to the agency.

And DNR has held 17 years of “schools,” during which teams undergo an intensive 9-week training course.

The dogs are trained to sniff out game and valuable plants — deer, wild turkey, water fowl and ginseng — to aid in anti-poaching efforts. They’re also taught to locate guns, knives, cell phones and other potential pieces of evidence.

The teams also play a central role in finding lost and missing people.

“Push yourself to train like every deployment can be your child or loved one because they are somebody’s — and we owe it to them to be the absolute best that we can be,” Officer Tim Kaiser said, recalling another’s words from years ago that have “stuck with me to this day.”

An officer smiles as a K-9 reaches up to him on Thursday, May 25, 2023. (Leslie Bonilla Muñiz/Indiana Capital Chronicle.)

Just two of the teams graduating Thursday were Hoosiers — others were from Kansas, Oregon and Utah. Indiana’s program has also trained teams from six other states and the country of Zambia.

DNR leaders also honored two white-muzzled canine retirees. After graduation, there are 12 operating teams, officials said.

One officer, who retired a dog, graduated a new one and led the training program itself, read a poem:

“My dog is more than a partner, you see, because he is very good friend to me,” Officer Matt Tholen said. “He’s the nose I don’t have, the eyes I have not. He’s one of the best partners most cops ain’t got.”

“… I know one day his work will be done, but for now we can only have fun — for my dog is more than a partner to me. My dog is my best friend and he will always be,” Tholen finished.

After dismissal, the closely clustered dogs jumped and whined while their handlers dragged them away to chat with loved ones and officials from their home states.

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Leslie Bonilla Muñiz
Leslie Bonilla Muñiz

Leslie covers state government for the Indiana Capital Chronicle with emphases on elections, infrastructure and transportation. She previously covered city-county government for the Indianapolis Business Journal. She has also reported on local, national and international news for the Chicago Tribune, Voice of America and more. She holds an undergraduate degree in journalism from Northwestern University.

Indiana Capital Chronicle is part of States Newsroom, the nation’s largest state-focused nonprofit news organization.

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