Mich. department adds K-9 to force through grant
By Marta Hepler Drahos
SUTTONS BAY, Mich. — Steve Morgan knows first-hand the value of a good police dog.
So one of his first moves as Leelanau County's new undersheriff in 2013 was to suggest that the department acquire its first K-9.
"I knew all along that Leelanau County never had a dog," said Morgan, a former K-9 handler with the Traverse City Police. "Way back when I had mine, I was coming up here to help them all the time. I knew they were a great tool for law enforcement and how valuable they can be. They have only one focus and that's to please a handler and to do a job."
Now Nico, a German shepherd trained to "detect and protect," aims to please Leelanau County sheriff's deputy and K-9 handler Greg Hornkohl. The 2-year-old, 80-pound dog joined the department in mid-December and already has been deployed about a dozen times.
"He's a phenomenal drug dog," said Morgan, Hornkohl's supervisor. "We had a guy in January that was kind of out of his mind, refusing to give up a couple of knives, and (Nico) was there, making his presence known. He helped the tribe track a burglary suspect. And he's out there a lot in the community."
Nico's route to northern Michigan began with a $15,000 grant from the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians for a dog, training and equipment. Then sheriff's officials turned to Mike Morgan (no relation to Steve Morgan) of Mid-Michigan Kennels, an Eaton Rapids facility that provides trained police dogs.
"What we wanted was a dog that was good at the all-over work that a police dog does, but also a highly social dog that a kid could go up and pull his ears," Steve Morgan said.
The trainer went to work, visiting Lucas K9 kennels in Poland in the fall and returning with eight hand-picked dogs including Nico — originally named Elliott.
Nico spent a week with Hornkohl, then went to Eaton Rapids for dual-purpose training where he learned to track; conduct building, open area and article searches; and provide handler protection and suspect apprehension. Hornkohl joined the dog for five weeks of handler training and the pair graduated together Dec. 6.
Since then Nico's kennel in the back of the sheriff's department K-9 unit has become a common sight on Leelanau County roads. Morgan said the community rallied around the program, providing dog food and reduced-cost veterinary care.
Nico wears a special "SHERIFF" collar but doesn't have a badge. A new bullet- and stab-protective dog vest was donated by a Massachusetts-based organization in memory of a Pittsburgh police dog who was stabbed and killed in the line of duty. The vests retail for about $2,800.
The shepherd makes himself at home in the squad room when he's not riding on shift duty. Morgan said the dog's good looks and personality make him a staff favorite.
"He's awesome with people but he knows when it's time to work," said Hornkohl, who trains with Nico every day and rewards him with a Kong toy and a game of tug for a job well done.
Off-duty Nico lives like a pet with Hornkohl's family, including twin sons, 11, a daughter, 9, and a German short-haired pointer named Nusia. He enjoys pig-ear treats, rides in the family station wagon and a bed next to Hornkohl's own.
"He's my buddy," said Hornkohl, giving the dog an affectionate pat. "I've always wanted to be a handler but we've never had the opportunity to do it. Now I have the best job in the department."
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