Operation K9 returned to Ole Haugsrud field on the University of Wisconsin campus Thursday, Aug. 12, with a dress rehearsal Tuesday, Aug. 10.

While they were put through similar demonstrations, from sniffing out drugs and apprehending a suspect to running through an obstacle course, each dog is an individual.

“They’re all different in their own way, shape or form,” said Superior Police Officer Jeff Harriman, who works with K9 Lacka. “They’re all good at certain things that, you know, maybe my dog isn’t so good at. They all have their personality, let me tell you.”

RELATED: Operation K9 returns Thursday to University of Wisconsin-Superior

The Superior Police Department currently has three K9 units. Sgt. Nick Eastman and Marik have been with the department since 2014; Harriman and Lacka, who joined the department in 2017; and Officer Tyler Rude and Radik, who started work in June. The dual-purpose dogs are trained to sniff out drugs and evidence and to track and find people. Superior’s K9 units respond to approximately 225 calls each year, according to the department’s 2020 annual report.

The Douglas County Sheriff’s Office has two K9 teams Deputy Brian Witt and Talon, who joined the sheriff’s office in 2014; and Deputy Cory Fossum and Sam, who joined the office in 2020.

The ability to have backup in the backseat is appealing, but it takes constant training and a close bond. Superior Police Officer Tyler Rude said he’s wanted to be a K9 officer for years.

“And you kind of think you know how much work it is going into it, and then you actually do it and really realize how much work it is, but it’s fun, it’s rewarding. It’s definitely a new challenge,” Rude said.

He met his partner, Radik, in November. The German shepherd-Belgian Malinois mix hails from Hungary.

“I can tell you that when I first met him and picked him up, he didn’t care about me. He didn’t know who I was, and I kind of wasn’t sure about him either. But it’s grown into a pretty cool relationship,” said Rude.

The newest K-9 in the Superior Police Department, Radik, lays by his toy as his handler, officer Tyler Rude (not pictured) gives an interview during the Operation K-9 practice at UW-Superior on Tuesday, Aug. 10, 2021.Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram

The newest K-9 in the Superior Police Department, Radik, lays by his toy as his handler, officer Tyler Rude (not pictured) gives an interview during the Operation K-9 practice at UW-Superior on Tuesday, Aug. 10, 2021.
Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram

His K9 partner offers the best of both worlds, a focused work dog with a friendly personality.

“He’s very, very social, loves to be pet, loves the ball, loves toys, that kind of thing, but also likes to work,” Rude said. “He was bred to do this line of work and it’s what he loves to do, but he also likes to be just a normal dog as well.”

For Harriman and Lacka, a Belgian Malinois from Hungary, the partnership is about respect and play.

“He loves his ball,” Harriman said. “Everything he does is for his toy. All the obedience, all the drug work, all the apprehension works, finding people, tracking — everything is so he can get his reward. His reward is a toy, as simple as a Kong … But he won’t take it until I tell him to.”

Superior Police Officer Jeff Harriman runs K-9 Lacka through the agility course at Ole Haugsrud Field at UW-Superior on Tuesday, Aug. 10, 2021, as they practice for the Operation K-9 event Thursday, Aug. 12, 2021.Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram

Superior Police Officer Jeff Harriman runs K-9 Lacka through the agility course at Ole Haugsrud Field at UW-Superior on Tuesday, Aug. 10, 2021, as they practice for the Operation K-9 event Thursday, Aug. 12, 2021.
Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram

Obedience training is incorporated into their daily routine.

“Because if we tell them to go do something, we need them to do it 100% of the time. There are times, however, they’re dogs. It’s like a kindergartener … 99 times out of 100, they’ll do exactly what you want, but there’s the one time when they don’t do what you want. We try to train with them all the time to prevent that from happening,” Harriman said.

One thing that sets Radik apart from Lacka and Marik is his drug detection training. In addition to other narcotics, the two older dogs are trained to sniff out marijuana. The new pup is not.

“Tyler’s dog and pretty much all the dogs coming out now are not, it’s called imprinted, they’re not trained for marijuana,” Harriman said.

The dogs give the same alert for any drug, whether it’s marijuana, meth or heroin. If marijuana is legalized, Harriman said, many of the current K9 dogs would have to be retired.

“Because if I search your car based on his alert and you have weed in the car, you could hypothetically sue me because I am violating your constitutional rights against illegal search and seizure because I am now searching your car and I had no reason to do it because marijuana is legal,” Harriman said. “But if someone says ‘Oh I just have weed in the car,’ can I take their word for it? I mean, a lot of times they have weed and heroin or meth.”

Douglas County Sheriff’s Deputy Cory Fossum stands with his K-9, Sam, during the Operation K-9 practice at UWS Tuesday, August 10, 2021.Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram

Douglas County Sheriff’s Deputy Cory Fossum stands with his K-9, Sam, during the Operation K-9 practice at UWS Tuesday, August 10, 2021.
Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram

Deputy Cory Fossum has been working with K9 Sam since 2020. His previous partner, Raptor, had issues staying focused on work in real-life scenarios and now lives with a family in Michigan.

“I couldn’t depend on him in a situation like this,” Fossum said after running through a simulated apprehension exercise with Sam Tuesday. “So it not only puts him in danger, but it puts everyone else in danger.”

Sam, a 4-year-old Belgian Malinois from Canada who weighs 63 pounds, is “180% different,” Fossum said, very focused and protective. That’s an asset when working in rural areas where backup can be 40 minutes away.

“I wouldn’t trade him,” Fossum said. “All dogs have their strengths and weaknesses. Sam’s strength is he’s very protective of me, which is good, because that’s the most important thing to me. His weakness is tracking. He wants his rewards quick — tracking takes patience.”

Officers have a close bond with their K9 partners and confidence in their abilities.

“But I think first and foremost, you’ve got to remember you’re a cop and ask yourself all the time, ‘What would I do if the dog wasn’t here?’” Fossum said. “They’re a dog. They have a mind of their own. Some days they have good days, sometimes they have bad days. I tell people it’s the only piece of equipment that we have that has a mind of its own.”

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