Tennis balls are a staple in Westfield Police Dept. officer Dewey Abney’s patrol vehicle. That’s because the department’s newest K-9, a golden retriever named Pilot, follows Abney wherever he goes.
Pilot loves tennis balls.
CHOOSING POLICE DOGS
Abney picked Pilot out at Vohne Liche Kennels in Denver, Ind. The pair spent two weeks bonding before returning to the kennels to undergo three weeks of training. Pilot began working regular 12-hour night shifts with Abney Sept. 6. He is a single-purpose K-9 and only will be used for drug searches. Since his first day and as of press time, he has indicated drugs in four vehicles. When officers searched the vehicles, they found drugs.
Pilot was sent to Vone Liche Kennels from Brazil. According to Abney, dogs are chosen when they are puppies based on their high drive and health.
Abney said for Pilot, work is all a game. When Pilot identifies drugs in a location, he is rewarded with a tennis ball or a treat.
“Dogs understand by pairing,” Abney said. “They began by training him as a puppy and imprinting him on tennis balls. Then they pair the tennis balls with (drugs).”
DEPLOYING A K-9
Officers can call for a K-9 for a variety of situations. If a K-9 indicates there are drugs in a vehicle, it gives officers the right to search the vehicle.
“There are certain indicators a motorist can give off that are not normal,” Abney said on when to call for a K-9. “It doesn’t seem like a normal traffic stop.”
Pilot also will be deployed in Westfield Washington Schools for locker and car searches.
“It’s good to bring him around schools so students realize it’s not a good idea to bring drugs to school,” Abney said. “There are a lot of drugs in the schools. It’s an issue that needs to be resolved. I think that’s going to be a focus.”
WPD Capt. Charles Hollowell said Pilot will be used for drug detection in Westfield schools and possibly for public relations initiatives for the department.
“The biggest thing is with this dog is it’s a single-purpose dog for drugs,” Hollowell said. “Without it being a bite dog, he is something that can definitely be used more for PR and things like that. (And) we want to make sure our schools are safe. With so many issues across our country with opioids, we want to make sure we keep our schools safe and keep our students safe. We just want to make sure we are progressive and staying ahead of the trends (that are) actually happening.”
There are two other K-9s on the WPD. Pilot is the only K-9 on the night shift. The other two are dual-purpose dogs, which means in addition to finding drugs they also apprehend suspects.
Lopez is a German Shepherd and Gorky is a Belgian Malinois. Both dogs are aging, and Pilot is only 1 ½ years old.
“The K-9s are getting older, and we will be retiring one before long,” Abney said. “Looking to the future, we need K-9s as the city grows.”
Namesake: Westfield Police Dept. Officer Dewey Abney and his wife Carissa came up with the name Pilot, because the K-9 will serve as Abney’s co-pilot.
Age: 1 ½ years old
Weight: 65 pounds
Cost: A single-purpose police K-9 can range from $8,000 to 9,500.
Career duration: K-9s can continue their careers until health and work quality fails, typically age 10 or 11. “As long as they stay healthy and they’re working, you keep them working,” Abney said. “Pilot has the potential to work longer than other dogs because he’s not chasing suspects.”
Language: As a puppy, Pilot was trained to obey Dutch commands. Abney has continued to speak Dutch commands to him.
Favorite game: Playing fetch
Favorite treat: A Kong toy filled with frozen peanut butter
Canine siblings: The Abneys have four other dogs – two pitbull mixes, a puggle and a pug. One pitbull is a therapy dog and the other Pitbull is a search-and-rescue dog.
Training: Abney trains Pilot with the WPD and surrounding agencies once a month and several days throughout the month on his own. Training locations and search areas are varied to mimic areas where illegal drugs could be concealed.