Sgt. William Gifford tossed his wrist watch into the air until it landed about 40 feet away deep into the grass.
He opened the door of his police cruiser. His canine partner, a German shepherd named Titan, bounded out and began tracking the faint human scent left behind on the watch.
Titan ran over to where the watch had landed in less than a minute and laid down with the timepiece between his front paws.
“That’s the hunt and he’s showing you, ‘That’s what I have,’” Sgt. Gifford explained.
Titan is one of 12 dogs used to battle crime and protect the lives of the people in Collier County. The four-legged partners of a close-knit group of deputies who serve as their handlers and currently make up the K9 Unit at the Collier County Sheriff’s Office.
The 12 K9 noses are among the most important crime-fighting tools at CCSO.
“There’s a big misconception that all we do is go out and bite people and that’s just so far from the truth,” Sgt. Gifford said. “We use our dogs for their sense of smell.”
The dogs come from all over, from as near as North Florida to as far as Israel, Germany and Mexico following an in-depth selection process.
A dog is selected when it meets all of the qualifications the unit is seeking. Qualifications include sociability, hunt drive, play drive, ability to retrieve, and nerve.
Once a dog is selected it goes through a bonding process with its assigned handler followed by training. The training covers each discipline that a dog will be tasked to perform such as narcotics detection, explosives detection or patrol functions.
Initial training for K9s and handlers is about 500 hours. A dog joins the unit once it has completed the required training and is deemed ready for service.
The K9 teams train regularly to maintain proficiency in their performance of the skills associated with their duties. They are on call 24 hours a day. The K9 Unit recently completed three days of training with the Aviation Unit to get the dogs used to flying and landing.
“It’s one of those things we always try to prepare for,” Sgt. Gifford said. “You never know if you’re going to get called out to the middle of the Everglades. There is no place to drive out there, so you’ve got to be airlifted.”
All of the dogs live at home with their handler. This allows the teams to build a strong relationship with their partners, which translates to amore effective team on the job. K9s are considered a part of the family.
Once a K9 is ready to retire, their handler is given the opportunity to adopt the dog.
Sgt. Gifford adopted his previous partner, retired K9 Bandit, who passed away in 2018.
“It was tough because it was like a piece of you passed,” Sgt. Gifford said. “I know people are close with their pets, but a police dog is a little bit different. I spent more time with him than I think I did with my wife or son.”
If it is a non-emergency, contact the Collier County Sheriff ’s Office non-emergency line at 239-252-9300. If it could be a crime in progress, call 911.
If you have information on past occurred crimes or people who are involved in criminal activity, call the CCSO TIPS line at 239-775-8477, or to remain anonymous and be eligible for a possible reward call Crime Stoppers at 800-780-TIPS.You can also email CCSO at TIPS@colliersheriff.org