He enjoys playing with his toy Kong, chasing tennis balls and having lots of praise and affection.

But what Zeno — the newest K-9 at the Cass County Sheriff’s Department — really seems to enjoy is helping to get illegal drugs off the streets of Cass County.

The 2-year-old Malaherd, a cross between a Belgian Malinois and Dutch Shepherd, has been with the department since November and is a sole-purpose narcotics detection dog. Purchased specifically for the sheriff’s department by Bullshippers Cafe owners Ron and Marsha Bullard and trained at Vohne Liche Kennels in Miami County, Zeno is the department’s third K-9.

His handler is Deputy Ryan Preston, and the eight-year law enforcement officer recently took a few minutes to reflect on the roles and responsibilities of CCSD’s newest addition.

“Zeno’s sole purpose is to go help us find narcotics, whether it be in a house or a vehicle,” Preston said. “Anyplace I have a right to be legally as an officer, he has a right to do a free air sniff. That means he can run around any vehicle that’s on any public place for absolutely no reason at all. If he alerts to the presence of narcotics, that allows us to search that vehicle.”

And in the two months that Zeno has been on the job, he’s already netted a few successes, Preston said.

“I think I ran him on 14 vehicles [traffic stops] so far. Some were mine and some are officers that felt the need to call me and have my dog run around the vehicle,” Preston said. “And I believe Zeno found narcotics in 10 of those. The last one we had was around $1,200 cash, marijuana and methamphetamine.”

That last one is Zeno’s biggest narcotics “bust” so far.

“That felt good,” Preston said smiling. “I was real proud of him.”

Preston met Zeno last October when the deputy went over to Vohne Liche in search of the perfect narcotics K-9.

“They showed me three dogs. Two Belgian Malinois and then Zeno,” the deputy said. “I walked all three of the dogs, and he was by far my favorite. He was a lot more calm, and I pretty much knew when I started walking him that he was the one.”

Preston then took Zeno home for a week and took that time to form a bond with the dog before heading back to Vohne Liche for training.

“I obviously couldn’t use him because I wasn’t trained, but I took him everywhere with me,” he said. “I took him to Rural King. I took him to work with me for eight hours a day. I played with him, and I just treated him like a dog.”

The pair began a rigorous three-week training session in early November, and Preston actually credits Zeno for helping him through that whole process.

“They [Vohne Liche] teach you to trust your dog 100 percent,” Preston said,” and when you first start out in training, you always second guess your dog because in the back of your mind, it’s a dog. But it’s just wild what those dogs can do.”

In other words, Preston said, Zeno is another tool in the toolbox.

“They’re not the catch-all,” he said, referring to the department’s three K-9s. “They’re not going to do everything for us, but they’re a huge asset.”

And because Zeno is a working dog, Preston makes sure that he’s happy but not too comfortable.

“That’s the hardest part for me because I’m such a dog lover,” he said. “But you have to separate working dogs from being a pet dog. If he gets too comfortable at home, he’s probably not going to want to get out and do his work, so you limit the things he gets.”

For instance, Zeno doesn’t get treats, and he eats nothing but the dog food provided by Vohne Liche. He doesn’t have free reign around the Preston household either.

But what Zeno does receive is plenty of affirmation for a job well done.

“You praise him with a high-pitch voice and a ball,” Preston said. “And it should be a party every time that dog finds drugs.”

And Zeno will find the drugs, Preston said adamantly.

“He’s just like any other dog I’ve ever owned,” Preston said. “He acts like a puppy and wants to play, but when it’s time for work, he’s ready to go. And if it’s illegal narcotics that are in your car, have been in your car or are on your person, Zeno’s going to find it,” he said. “Because that’s what he’s trained to do.”

Reach Kim Dunlap at kim.dunlap@pharostribune.com or 574-732-5150.

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