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The Wilson Police Department recently added two new furry members to its canine team. And while they’re only 18 months old, Argo and Eko have never been more ready to put their skills to work to keep residents safe and demonstrate they’re now a part of the Wilson community.
The German shepherds recently completed the required 14-week intensive training and passed with flying colors.
“These dogs are ready to go,” said Wilson Police Sgt. Russell Winstead, who is over the K-9 unit. Argo and Eko have been on the force for about two weeks now. With the two new additions, the department is back at five K-9s following two retirements. The other team members are Taz, Jaxx and Haso.
“They provide a lot of different tools for us,” Winstead said.
Argo and Eko are dual-purpose K-9s, which means they are used for patrol and narcotics detection. They are also trained in apprehension, tracking, article searches and handler protection as well.
“They are multifaceted,” Winstead said.
Argo and Eko will be formally certified in the upcoming months. And their handlers, K-9 officers Jeff Boykin and Justin Fulghum, said the dogs haven’t missed a beat when it comes to learning all the required techniques.
“When they see something ... their brain is literally painting them a picture we can’t see,” said Fulghum, who is Eko’s handler. “They can’t verbally speak it, but they translate the message to us through body language.”
The K-9s used for law enforcement purposes are typically from overseas. Argo is from European Working Dogs in Hungary, while Eko was bred in Cherokee from a man who lived in the Netherlands for 20 years, officials said.
While Boykin and Fulghum have set training days with Argo and Eko twice a month, they are constantly working with the dogs throughout their shift each day and at home.
“You get what you put in,” said Boykin, who is Argo’s handler and is also a certified K-9 trainer.
That work includes training throughout various places in the city of Wilson, including buildings, grass and wooded tracks. They also re-create scenarios.
“We want the dogs trained and exposed to the environments they are going to work in,” Winstead said. “They put them through different tests here in the city.”
Argo and Eko help police in identifying suspects, running tracks on breaking and entering suspects and performing narcotic searches in homes and cars. They’re also valuable partners on foot patrol.
“Their sense of smell is so much greater than ours,” Fulghum said. “Everything they do is through their nose. We have 5 million cell receptors. That’s just identifying odors. They have 350 million.”
And as far as tracking, humans shed about 15 ounces of dead skin a day, Fulghum said.
“Wherever you’ve been, you’re leaving an odor,” he added.
There is an intricate process when it comes to selecting the right K-9 for the police department.
“We go to a vendor and select the dog based on what we are looking for — socialization around us and other people, their work drive and energy to do a task,” Boykin said.
He said police also want to see how hard the dogs will hunt for something they can’t see by using their nose. They also put the K-9s through their paces in dark rooms, metal stairs, climbing stairs and slick floors.
“It’s kind of like picking out a car,” Winstead added. “And you want to pick the right vehicle for your agency. For our agency, we do a lot of community-oriented policing. So we pick dogs that are socially acceptable, able to go in to schools and do demonstrations throughout the community.”
Boykin and Fulghum both said Argo and Eko are the perfect fit.
A PART OF THE FAMILY
Argo and Eko are not only a part of the police family now but also a member of Boykin’s and Fulghum’s families too.
“You do spend a lot of time with these dogs, and you bond with them,” Boykin said. “It’s a very addicting job. I’m very passionate about it. I really enjoy it. The chief has given us a lot of opportunities to do this.”
All five K-9s rotate on schedule each week. Argo worked four cases on a recent day alone.
Boykin said the bond between K-9 and handler is indescribable, and it’s great knowing another team member has his back.
“I’ve always got somebody with me,” he said about his K-9. “I know that I’ve got somebody here before my backup gets here.”