By ALLEN RAU
As the president of Jonesborough’s “Paws in Blue” charity, which raises funds to acquire and support the police department’s K-9 units, Ruth Verhegge knows how much work goes into training and caring for one of the canines.
“(The handlers) all stepped up. There’s a fair amount of extra work involved, being a K-9 officer. The dogs stay with them 24-7. So they’re responsible for their care. But the dogs get continual training, as well.”
She also believes they are game changers for the police, and may have changed the outcome of the recent shooting onn 11-E in Jonesborough.
“Several of us are so convinced the shooting would have been prevented had we had an appropriately trained K-9,” she said. “I really think it would have.”
With the arrival of Cygan and his handler, Hannah Fleming, her wishes have been granted.
A 2-year old Belgian Malinois and Shepherd mix, Cygan is specially trained in apprehension and explosives detection.
Fleming, who is approaching the one-year anniversary of her partnership with Cygan, was on the force for two years before switching to the K-9 unit.
She recently recalled her first meeting with her partner.
“We showed up at (FM K-9) school the night before it started. We woke up early and went to the kennels. Basically they just handed him to me and said ‘Here’s your dog’. Then I took him outside and the first thing, and he still does it, he nibbled on my pockets. I don’t know why he does it. He likes his pockets.”
As Jonesborough’s only trained explosives detection K-9, Cygan and Fleming’s job is crucial for a place that hosts numerous events with crowds of attendees all over the town.
Fleming urges folks who encounter the duo to make sure they ask permission before getting friendly.
“I think the biggest thing is asking if it’s okay to do something. A lot of people, they’ll just run up and touch the dog and half the time when they do that we’re trying to work the dog.
“For Cygan, we were running the tents at Storytelling, looking for explosives. Well, once you start touching and talking to the dog, it could mess him up. He’ll get distracted while we’re trying to focus on the task. It was a problem big-time at Storytelling.”
Fleming said she always knew what path she wanted to follow, and now that she is traveling that path, she is enjoying the trip.
“Being a handler is awesome. Police work is interesting. I enjoy it. I wouldn’t want to do anything else, for sure.”