By Julie Ann Madden
At only 18 months of age, she’s the youngest member of the Union County Sheriff’s Office.
The purebred German Shepherd canine, named Meshach, is a certified drug detection police dog.
It’s hard to tell who is more thrilled with their new assignment — Meshach or her handler, Deputy Stephanie Ryan.
“I always wanted to be a handler,” said Ryan, who graduated from South Sioux City Community School in 2004. “I’ve always wanted to be a cop. Growing up I always pretended I was a cop and arrested my brothers and sisters.”
Ryan enlisted in the U.S. Army in 2005, earned the rank of E4 Specialist and was assigned to serve in the Military Police. She served in Iraq. In 2011, she officially began her civilian career. Ryan has been with the Union County Sheriff’s Office for four years.
“I just love animals,” she said, adding she’d thought about becoming a veterinary assistant, too. “I became a cop because I always wanted to do that.”
“Now I get to be a cop and play with a dog,” she laughed.
And play is what Meshach loves to do, and her toys are all drug-scented.
“She lives with me and goes to work with me,” said Ryan as she played tug-o-war with Meshach one recent evening as they started their shift of duty.
Union County officials received an $18,345 grant from the S.D. Drug Control Fund through the S.D. Attorney General’s Office, according to Union County Sheriff Dan Limoges, explaining the grant paid for Union County’s drug dog program startup costs, including the equipment needed for the canine specially-equipped patrol vehicle and purchase of Meshach, which cost $6,000 and included her transportation from Holland.
“I would like to thank Attorney General Marty Jackley for providing the grant for our K-9 program,” said Limoges. “The grant makes the program a reality here in Union County. We are excited and very pleased for the partnership we have with the Attorney General’s Office.”
“The Drug Control Fund allows law enforcement to combat controlled substance abuse by funding local programs with monies seized from drug arrests,” said Jackley. “These funds will assist the Union County Sheriff’s Office to better protect its communities.”
Meshach and Ryan successfully completed the S.D. Highway Patrol’s Narcotics Detection Dog Camp in Pierre, S.D., shortly after Meshach arrived last December. This training was at no-cost to the county.
Ongoing expenditures for such things as routine veterinary care, training and dog toys are the responsibility of the county and can add up fast, said Limoges, who is seeking donations to help offset the ongoing expenses.
“We know we have a drug issue,” said Limoges. “There are drugs throughout the area.”
“Having the interstate road system run through the entire Union County, Interstate 29 becomes a pipeline for transporting these illegal drugs,” he said. “Drugs have always been prevalent and probably always will. Hopefully, we can curtail that somewhat with this partnership.”
The duo are subject to assignments 24 hours a day in all weather conditions, he explained. A drug dog’s alert (of drugs) in itself may be considered enough probable cause for a search warrant to be obtained.
“We think the dog program will definitely benefit our department and the county,” said Limoges. “It’ll get the message out there that if you’re bringing drugs into the county or through the county, there’s the potential of our drug dog stopping you.”
“Ryan is a good handler and is very dedicated and eager to make a difference with her new partner,” said Limoges. “With Ryan and Meshach together, they’ll definitely make an impact on the drug transportation and usage here.”
Since Meshach’s first official day on the job, which was Feb. 6, the duo has already found drugs which led to the arrest of three individuals in two separate incidents, said Limoges.
Limoges is seeking individuals and/or businesses that would allow Meshach and Ryan to conduct training within their property.
“She’s not vicious,” said Ryan. “She doesn’t bite. She loves to play and find her toys.”
“Meshach needs to be exposed to different environments, ranging from open fields to cluttered storage rooms, lockers, vehicles and buildings,” said Limoges. “If you’re interested in making a donation or letting us train on your property, just call Deputy Ryan or myself at 605-356-2679.”