AUGUSTA — From missing people to pharmacy robbers, more cases in central Maine are requiring the use of a police dog to track scents.

Kennebec County Sheriff Cpl. G.J. Neagle and his dog, Draco, have been called on with increasing frequency over the past few years, but help is on the way thanks to a decision by county commissioners to purchase and train a second team.

Deputy Aaron Moody and his new dog, Stryker, today will begin the 14 weeks of Basic K-9 Patrol School at the Maine Criminal Justice Academy in Vassalboro. The training, which includes basic obedience, handler protection, as well as search and tracking, will be followed in the fall by an eight-week Drug Detection School, said Kennebec County Sheriff Randall Liberty.

“The K-9 program has been instrumental in locating many lost citizens, children and demential patients,” Liberty said. “Additionally they have located many suspects and protected their handlers.”

Moody, who has been with the sheriff’s office for three years, went through a selection process to train as the new handler.

“Deputy Moody is young, energetic and motivated for the position,” Neagle said. “He has a good working relationship with surrounding agencies.”

That relationship will be important as Moody and Stryker will often work with other state and local law enforcement agencies during searches and drug prevention assignments.

“Sheriff Liberty has taken an aggressive approach to combat the war on drugs within our community,” Neagle said. “We have a lot of resources at all levels,” including the Federal Drug Enforcement Agency, Maine Drug Enforcement Agency and local drug investigators.

Neagle responded to more than 200 calls in 2012 with his dog Gib, which has since retired, and Draco, which was stabbed with a knife during a standoff last year in Randolph. The German shepherd was treated at a clinic in Lewiston and received stitches and staples for a deep stab wound just behind his ear, and has since returned to duty.

Draco was stabbed during a track of a suspected drug thief. Such calls are on the rise, Neagle said, and Maine had a record-breaking 54 pharmacy robberies last year. Of those, nine were in Augusta, the most of any municipality in Maine.

“I have noticed an increase in K-9 calls over the last few years, partly because of the shortage of K-9 teams in this immediate central Maine area,” Neagle said.

He said there have traditionally been two teams serving the area, but for the past three years Neagle and his dogs have been the only team.

“Aside from conducting criminal apprehension tracks and tracks for missing persons, drug calls have noticeably increased,” Neagle said.

To help alleviate that stress, Kennebec County Commissioners agreed last Tuesday to spend $6,000 to purchase Stryker. The 1-year-old Belgian Malinois was purchased from K-9 instincts in Portsmouth, R.I., after being imported from Mexico four weeks ago, Liberty said. Neagle and Maine State Police Sgt. Blaine Bronson, principal dog trainer at the criminal justice academy, selected the dog.

“He’s got a great temperament,” Neagle said. “He’s a high-drive dog.”

Liberty said there have been eight dog handlers during his 24 years with the office.

“Neagle is the best I’ve seen,” Liberty said. “Deputy Moody has a great mentor in G.J. Neagle.”

Craig Crosby — 621-5642
[email protected]

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