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A changing of the K-9 guard
Times photo: Brenda Steurer Handler Deputy Fred Norter and 16-month-old Cody are Lafayette County Sheriffs departments newest K-9 team. They spent six weeks training together.
MONROE - Lafayette County Sheriff's first K-9 unit dog, Riley, officially retired last week with the arrival of his replacement, 16-month old Cody.

Riley was forced to end his six-year tenure due to a medical condition determined by veterinarians to be a spinal arthritis called spondylosis. The condition impinges nerves and causes lameness in his rear legs. Strenuous activity requires several weeks of recovery.

His K-9 handler, Deputy Fred Norder, said the condition came on suddenly.

"Riley didn't get the effects until this year," he said.

So Riley, now almost 11, has gone home to stay where he has gone every night since beginning his service in 2002 with the Lafayette County Sheriff's department - with Norder and his family.

"In my opinion, there wasn't any other option," Norder said about adopting Riley.

Riley doesn't stay in the home, but Norder said not to feel sorry for him.

"He has the mansion of all dog houses," he laughed.

When Riley came to Lafayette County, a local lumber supply company supplied him with an 6-foot by 8-foot shed, with a floor and completely insulated. Norder revamped the kennel to accommodate both Riley and Cody.

"Riley has a sunscreen and all the fresh air he wants," Norder said.

He also gets an occasional bit of steak or piece of brat, something he was never allowed before.

Riley's last assignment was the same as his first, tracking.

His first assignment came before he even arrived in Darlington, while he and Norder were on their way from the Southern Police Canine Academy, near Mount Hope, N.C.

Norder said they were in Freeport when a call came in about a crash. He and Riley tracked the person for two miles before finding him.

In April 2009, Riley and Norder walked about two miles tracking a man. Suddenly Riley took off, leaving Norder to pull in his lead line.

"Riley found him," Norder said. ""We were standing about 10 feet away, and he was up by a thorn bush by a fallen tree."

During his seven years and three months of service, Riley was deployed hundreds of times for narcotics searches and human tracking incidents.

In 2007, he and Norder won a statewide award as the top K-9 team in Wisconsin for narcotics detection.

Norder said Cody will be "just as good as, if not better" than Riley. He inherits Riley's badge number 777.

Cody, like Riley, is a Belgian Malinois, a breed that has been found to be stronger and fasted than the German Shepherd, Norder said. The breed is still susceptible to hip dysplasia and arthritis, but take longer to get, he added.

Norder and Cody's first two weeks together at the Southern Police Canine Academy were spent getting to know and trust each other.

"There are very little commands, just feeding and walking," Norder said.

But Norder said he had to spend three to four days learning Slovakian to issue commands to Cody, because the dog was born in Slovakia. Riley was born in Holland, and Norder learned Dutch to command him.

Norder said he is still hesitating sometimes, trying to filter out the urge to use Dutch and speak Cody's language.

Cody is still getting use to the Sheriff's department, curious to know what is around the corner, even though Norder had him on a down-stay command. For Cody, it is training.

"It's hard for dogs to know when to work and when not to work," Norder said. "Cody is extra alert and has a very good work ethic."

Cody is trained in narcotics detection, human tracking, apprehension and the protection of his handler.

Norder said training is most harsh on the dogs. They receive 16 hours a month in training. Only if an assignment turns out to be a "sufficiently positive" experience does it count toward training hours, he added.

"It's all play for them," Norder said, smiling. "We trick them into working."

Sheriff Scott Pedley said the county went back to Southern Police Canine Academy, because they are the best trained and most disciplined. The dogs are screened for the work and chosen for the handler by the academy.

"We had another choice for about $5,000 less," Pedley said, "but it's well worth the extra."

He said the academy supplies trained canines for the military, police and sheriff departments and customs departments. Handlers receive college credit for the six-week course, which includes two written and two practical tests.

Cody, and Riley, were each purchased for $14,000, which includes officer training and support. Lafayette County's K-9 program is funded thorough donations from citizens, service groups and businesses. The service life of a canine is typically five to seven years. The Sheriff's Department has started another fund to replace Cody, when the time comes for him to follow the life of Riley.