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Sheriff’s Office selects K-9 handlers

April 4, 2019

The Flathead County Sheriff’s Department has chosen the two deputies who will serve as the new K-9 unit’s first canine handlers.

Deputies Charles Pesola and Matt Vander Ark will begin their training with their new drug interdiction dogs in June, with plans to hit the streets by July summer. Both deputies will take charge of their individual dogs both on and off the clock, integrating the canines into their work and home lives. Their duties as K-9 officers will include regular patrols of the county and responding to drug calls.

The dogs also will participate in demonstrations and interactions within the community, including visits to schools across the county.

Sheriff Brian Heino had expressed interest in pursuing the program as a future possibility for the department, and said he did not expect to be able to act on the program so quickly after taking office due to a lack of funding.

The two deputies recognized the potential for the program and took it upon themselves to lead the charge in raising money for the dogs by reaching out to the community. The campaign Pesola and Vander Ark launched in February took off, gaining support from businesses, organizations and individuals across the valley.

“They were the leads ... in going up to the community and talking about this,” Heino said of the deputies. “They’re very invested.”

Within 24 hours of announcing its mission and purpose for the K-9 program, the two officers exceeded their initial $5,000 goal.

Heino said he began the fundraising process with the expectation of raising the money for the dogs over an extended period of time. Upon seeing the valley’s enthusiasm for the program, he put forward the department’s total funding goal. Not including continued costs associated with the dogs’ day-to-day care, the program is now nearly fully funded and operational.

“The community has spoken what they want out of their sheriff’s department,” Deputy Corporal Travis Bruyer said. “And right now they say ‘we want dogs to address the issues of hard drugs in our community.’”

Though Heino commended Pesola and Vander Ark’s efforts in helping launch the program, he said the deputies still had to go through a selection process to ensure the most qualified deputies were chosen to fill the positions.

Prior to their selection, Vander Ark served as a member of the department’s SWAT team and Pesola was a negotiator, Heino said.

“Both of them have also had very successful careers with us,” Heino. “They’re valuable members of this organization. I know they have that ability to take it to the level it will need to be, and they’ll keep expanding it.”

Donations made to the Flathead County K-9 Program to date have covered the purchase of both dogs and have nearly covered the cost of the new equipment associated with introducing K9 officers.

Heino said he hopes the introduction of the first two K-9s will launch a program that will continue to grow in years to come.

“The goal of the foundation is to have funding continue so that when we need to replace a dog, then there’s a constant funding mechanism to kind of help with that,” Heino said.

The next step is choosing the dogs who will join the department.

For more information or to donate to the K9 program, visit http://www.flatheadcommunityfoundation.org/flathead-county-k9-program.html.

Reporter Mary Cloud Taylor can be reached at 758-4459 or mtaylor@dailyinterlake.com.