The Mohave County Sheriff’s Office K-9 Program became nonexistent in years past.
It went from five handler-dog teams to zero. However, due to the efforts of Sheriff Doug Schuster, there’s a rejuvenation of the program and it is now rising from the ash and rubble like a mighty phoenix.
When Schuster was campaigning for the county’s top law enforcement job, he spoke with retired MCSO Deputy Sam Ruiz, whom he had worked the streets with in previous years. He and Ruiz came to the agreement that if he was elected, Ruiz would come out of retirement, and again serve as a deputy and K-9 handler.
Ruiz’s law enforcement career began when the Tempe Police Department paid for him to go through the academy. Once graduated, Ruiz worked for TPD for about a year before making a move to the MCSO. Ruiz has been a K-9 officer since 2005 when he and K-9 partner Angus were assigned. Angus retired in early 2011 and during March 2011, Ruiz and Thor were teamed up and received training in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Ruiz says he loved his job as a deputy and that’s why he spent 20 years with Mohave County before retiring in 2015, along with his canine companion, Thor.
Part of Sheriff Schuster’s plan to resurrect the K-9 program was to bring Deputy Ruiz and Thor out of retirement, assign them to the isolated Yucca area and help restore the MCSO K-9 Program.
“I worked out of Yucca by myself prior to retiring,” Ruiz said. “It is in the remote area of Mohave County and if I called for backup, it would take at least an hour to an hour and a half before someone could arrive at my location to assist me. So Thor is my life saver; he’s my backup.”
Ruiz put his uniform back on in March, and he and Thor are now patrolling Yucca and the surrounding areas including Boriana Mine Road which leads high into the Hualapai Mountains, Alamo Road south to Lake Alamo, Buckeye Estates and Santa Fe Estates.
“Thor is a dual-purpose dog that can track methamphetamine, marijuana, cocaine, heroin and any drugs of those combinations,” Ruiz said. “He can also track missing people, and, of course, he protects my back.”
Because of Sheriff Schuster’s efforts and steadfast determination, MCSO will have four new teams added to the department’s crime fighting arsenal in November.
“We are lucky enough to have had funds (about $12,000 each, plus room and food for the four deputies) that were already set aside to send the deputies to school and to purchase their canine partners,” Schuster said. “The county does not have a line item in the budget for K-9s, which is the reason why Mohave County Sheriffs K-9 Foundation came into existence.”
According to Schuster, all donations to the K-9 program, training, purchase of the dogs, food, vet care and all other associated costs will be handled through the foundation.
“We are going to rely on the support of the foundation, as they are invaluable to the success of the program,” he said. “Best of all, all donations to the foundation are tax deductible.”
MCSO deputies Kevin Gunnoe, John Wilson, Jeremy Felish and Kelly McCool now have a common goal and that’s heading to Edgewood, New Mexico this month to participate in the six-week K-9 Services training school, which starts Sept. 18.
Deputy Gunnoe currently has a K-9 named Kujo which was given to him from a prior handler when that deputy stepped away from the department for personal reasons.
“The story behind that (Kujo) is, we had another deputy working for us that was well versed in K-9s, and he wanted to be part of our program,” Schuster said. “We sent him to the school in New Mexico, picked out a dog that was a little bit rambunctious, and when he was at the vet, the dog got a little crazy and had to be muzzled. Kujo will be going back to K-9 Services and Deputy Gunnoe will be getting a new partner, and they will be attending the training together in New Mexico.”
Deputy Felish and another deputy traveled to the K-9 Services facility in July and picked up their canine partners. Deputies McCool, Wilson and Gunnoe visited K-9 Services Aug. 28–30, to check out the various available canines. During their three-day visit, McCool and Wilson picked out their new partners, and Gunnoe returned Kujo and chose his new canine partner. All of the deputies brought their four-legged partners home so they could begin the bonding process with them before heading back to the school. Each of the K-9s already has a name, but the deputies have the option of changing them.
All four deputies come to the MCSO K-9 Program with diversified and varied law enforcement backgrounds. They include:
• Deputy Wilson, who patrols the Bullhead City and Mohave Valley areas, has been with MCSO for 16 years. During his time with Mohave County, he served as a MCSO K-9 handler 11 years ago before being assigned different duties.
“Before becoming a deputy, I worked as a reserve officer with the Fort Mohave Tribal Police,” Wilson said. “I again asked questions about becoming a K-9 handler, and Sheriff Schuster asked me to be one of the four deputies with the K-9s since I had prior experience.”
• Deputy McCool, who patrols the Kingman area, has been with MCSO since January 2012 and began his patrol duties upon his graduation from the academy in May 2012.
“I used to help out former MCSO Sergeant Raja Karim, who was a K-9 handler, when he was training his service dog,” McCool said. “I recently expressed an interest in becoming a K-9 handler, and I received a call from the sheriff asking me to be one of the team members.”
• Deputy Felish, who patrols the Arizona Strip area, has been with MCSO since 2016. Before that, he worked as a law enforcement officer for Arizona Game and Fish Department from 2009 to 2016.
“I’ve had an interest in K-9s for a long time,” Felish said. “I requested the assignment and was lucky enough to be accepted. The dog I picked out is an 80-pound Malinois named Brutus, and it fits him well. I am going to keep that name for him.”
• Deputy Gunnoe, who patrols the Kingman area, returned to MCSO during April 2017. He originally joined MCSO in 2007 and worked for Mohave County for about seven years and served as a K-9 handler from 2012-2014 before departing. During his hiatus from MCSO, he worked as a tribal police officer for the Hualapai Nation Police Department.
Gunnoe served in the U.S. Air Force from 1993 to 2006 and worked as a military dog handler for 10 years, serving a tour of duty in the Middle East.
Upon completion of the training in New Mexico on Oct. 31, the K-9 teams will return to Mohave County and begin patrolling their assigned areas.
“We specialize in dual-purpose patrol and detection K-9 teams,” said Kevin Sheldahl, who is the owner of New Mexico based K-9 Services. Sheldahl has more than 30 years of experience in training law enforcement officers, corrections officers, military handlers and their service dogs. “Our dogs are trained in detection of narcotics, search and rescue, explosives, human remains, patrol, tracking and tactical operations.”
“People are very excited countywide about our K-9 program,” Schuster said. “I, too, am very excited about it. I look forward to deploying these K-9s in an ongoing effort to reduce crime, especially drug related activity.”
People who would like further information about Mohave County Sheriff’s K-9 Foundation, or would like to make a tax-deductible donation to the MCSO K-9 Program, can call foundation board members John Sanchelli at 651-270-0920, Dennis Ahlemeir at 310-525-6907, or Cheri Ahlemeir at 310-539-4012.