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New K-9 gets acclimated

Tony Holt Hernando Today
Published:   |   Updated: May 7, 2013 at 05:49 PM

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Jason Jernigan spent 640 hours training with his new K-9.

Every night for four months, he drove to Pinellas County and back with Dzel in tow. The K-9 was trained on a variety of apprehension and tracking skills.

Dzel — pronounced diesel — learned well. He has six catches since he finished training four months ago.

None have resulted in a single bite, said Jernigan, a 12-year veteran of the Hernando County Sheriff's Office.

The dog turned 2 years old on Wednesday.

Some K-9s are more intense than others. Jernigan, who is Dzel's full-time handler, has a dog that can kick back and rest just as easily as chase and attack.

"He knows when he goes to work and he knows when he's at home," said Jernigan. "He's pretty mellow at home."

Dzel is one of four K-9s with the sheriff's office. The others are Ike, D'Ari and Kilo.

Kilo made news in August 2010 after he tracked a suspect who was hiding in a shed in Brooksville. The suspect, Keith Ritchie, fired at deputies who had surrounded him, and a couple of the bullets hit Kilo.

The dog suffered minor wounds and returned to work two weeks later. Ritchie was fatally wounded by deputies.

Dzel, a pure-bred German shepherd, was purchased by the sheriff's office in December 2011 and he started his training a month later with first-time K-9 handler Jernigan.

The K-9s live with their handlers.

Jernigan said he was lucky to be paired with a quick learner.

"He's a good tracker," he said. "He's doing really well."

The dog was born in Frankfort, Germany. In most cases, when such dogs are purchased by law enforcement, they go into it with no introductory training. Dzel cost the agency $8,500, said sheriff's office spokeswoman Denise Moloney.

Other than throwing a tennis ball and seeing whether it can find it and fetch it, the dogs aren't put to the test until their training officially begins, said Jernigan.

Since finishing the apprehension and tracking program, Dzel has been going through in-house drug-detection training under Jernigan's supervision. Dzel has another month to go.

Not all K-9s can specialize in suspect apprehension and drug detection, but Dzel will be a dual-purpose dog, Jernigan said. (352) 544-5283

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