The Pasco Sheriff’s Office has added another police dog to its ever-growing K9 Unit — and this one brings a unique set of skills to the job.
K9 Maddie — a two-year-old black Labrador Retriever — is the agency’s first-ever “live-find” K9. That means the dog has been specially trained to find people missing in a natural or other disasters, such as a building collapse or the aftermath of a hurricane.
So-called live-find K9s like Maddie must be confident working at a distance from their handlers and sure-footed, with a keen sense of smell, sheriff’s office officials say.
Maddie came to the sheriff’s office last May from Maine-based Maranatha Farm Kennels, and began three months of training to pass state certification for search and rescue efforts.
Her handler, Deputy Robert Lewis, also has received intense training in rescue operations to best assist the canine when deployed, acquiring fire rescue certifications in ropes, rescue, trench and confined spaces operations.
Together, they have continued training almost daily on two of the agency’s FEMA-certified “rubble pile” training facilities, which simulate a variety of scenarios, such as a parking garage or house collapse.
Once the duo secures federal certification, the unit will be able to deploy to disasters outside of Florida, if necessary.
Lewis, a sheriff’s office employee since 2015, has previous experience as a field training officer.
When asked by agency leadership about partnering with a live-find K9, he jumped at the opportunity.
“It was very interesting to me,” Lewis said in a video media presentation produced by the sheriff’s office. “It’s a completely different task that no one’s done for the agency yet. Also, the fact that more than likely you’ll get to travel to respond to natural disasters, whether it be a hurricane somewhere else, or out of state.”
Lewis also noted: “I always wanted to be a K9 (deputy). I grew up around a lot of dogs for pet purposes and also hunting purposes.”
The advanced canine is named in honor of Madison “Maddie” Moore, a River Ridge High School student who passed away unexpectedly in 2017 at the age of 17, before her graduation. She died after a blood clot in her brain caused a massive stroke.
Her parents, Ed and Angie Moore, donated funds to the sheriff’s office to make the K9 purchase.
Inspired by television shows like Criminal Minds and CSI: Miami, Madison dreamed that she would earn a degree in forensics and become a crime scene investigator.
She showed miniature horses, competitively, and was known for her love of animals.
“Madison was a very outgoing kid,” Madison’s father said in the video. “We feel very fortunate…we were able to continue her legacy and put forth something that she was looking forward to in her life.
“It means a lot to us. It means even more that the dog was named after her and it will continue to carry her legacy.”
Including K9 Maddie, the sheriff’s office now has 31 K9s, which are funded through community donations and contributions.
In addition to live-find capabilities, the sheriff’s office operates K9s certified in narcotics detection, explosives detection, tracking, patrol work, human remains detection and animal assisted therapy. The agency also has K9s assigned to its highway interdiction and SWAT teams.
Pasco Sheriff Chris Nocco underscored the importance of the agency’s K9 Units, during the video series.
“It’s about saving people, protecting our citizens,” the sheriff said. “When somebody’s in need, a child goes missing, a person with Alzheimer’s is lost, we can go out there and search for them. You know, if we have to hunt down a bad person, we find that bad person, but at the same time…the vast majority of our calls for service is to find people, to save people, and that’s what our K9s are out there doing.”
On K9 Maddie joining the force, Nocco said: “We’re blessed to have K9 Maddie now. I’m happy to see who she’s going to find in the future.”
Published March 10, 2021