By LIBBY CUDMORE • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com
COOPERSTOWN – Like many retirees, Mika is looking forward to the day when she can finally relax at home.
“She’ll finally be allowed on the couch,” said Mika’s handler, Sheriff’s Deputy Kris Solovitch. “She can play fetch and just be a dog, rather than having to go to work.”
K-9 Mika, 10, along with K-9 Ricky, 9, assigned to Deputy Keith Sheldon, are scheduled to retire from the force this fall.
“Ricky’s just going to take it easy, spend time with the kids,” said Sheldon.
Ricky was assigned to Sheldon in July 2012 and the team graduated from the State Police Canine Academy in Cooperstown in December 2012.
“My uncle, Hank Sheldon, was a K-9 handler,” he said. “I’ve always been a dog person, and I wanted to follow in his footsteps.”
Trained in narcotics detection, Ricky is brought onto the scene when deputies or troopers need to search a vehicle or residence. “We found a bunch of heroin in a PlayStation console one time,” he said. “We were searching a vehicle, and Ricky hit on the console. We opened it up and sure enough, it was packed with heroin.”
Mika, meanwhile, has never gotten to fully utilize her specialty as a bomb-detecting dog.
“We’re brought in to sweep the streets ahead of Hall of Fame weekend, and we’ve responded to a lot of bomb threats,” he said. “There was a threat called into Hannaford, and she had to sweep the whole store. It turned out to be nothing, which is the difference between our dogs – you hope Ricky will find something, but you hope Mika won’t!”
He did credit Mika with finding several high-capacity magazines during a search of a home in Schenevus. “Most of all, she’s a food hound,” he joked. “She knows when she comes into work, everyone wants to give her a treat.”
And both dogs are trained in tracking. “We got a mental health call that someone had fled into the woods,” said Sheldon. “It was a successful track, and we found the person and were able to get them the help they needed.”
Both are trained in handler protection, but they’ve never had to use it, and have never bitten a suspect during an arrest. “I’d had her with me about a month when Mika was brought in on a domestic,” said Solovitch. “I took her into the woods, and I didn’t think she was doing what I needed her to do. I was about to call her back when I heard a guy screaming that he was coming out.”
“I had someone in a house who had a felony warrant out on them and they weren’t coming out,” said Sheldon. “I had Ricky all ready, the bite collar on and he started to bark, and the guy came right out!”
Handlers name their dogs, usually for a fallen law enforcement official.
Ricky’s namesake is Investigator Ricky A. Yerdon, a fraud investigator for the county who passed away unexpectedly on June 30, 2008.
Mika is named for Army Cpl. Michael L. Mayne of Burlington Flats. Mayne died on Feb. 23, 2009, from wounds received during an insurgent attack on his unit in Balad, Iraq.
Mika and Ricky are the first two K-9s to retire from the sheriff’s department; the other three in service died of natural causes while still on active duty. “Mika has some arthritis in her back, and Ricky is going blind in one eye,” said Solovitch. “It’s time.”
Solovitch will continue working as a K-9 handler; Sheldon will return to regular duties. “It’s time to let someone else take a turn,” he said.
Four other deputies have put in for the position, Sheriff Richard J. Devlin Jr. said. “It’s a 24/7 job,” he said. “It’s like having a child! But both deputies and K-9s have done a great job.”
Solovitch expects that his new K-9 partner will arrive later this spring; they will train at the Oneida County Academy and be ready in time for Mika’s retirement in the fall.
“There’s going to be a period of adjustment because I’ll have this other dog, but Mika will want to come into work,” he said. “I’m going to do whatever I can to minimize that stress for her.”
But because the dogs are county property, both Deputies will have to buy them in order to take them home. “We have to pay $1,” said Solovitch. “I think it’s worth it, though.”