Andy Slagle, an officer with the Unicoi County Sheriff’s Department, works with K-9 officer Saido. The dog joined the department earlier this year. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Richard Rourk)

By Richard Rourk

There is a new officer patrolling the streets of Unicoi County and his name is Officer Saido.

Saido is a Belgian Malinois and is the newest K-9 officer partnered with the Unicoi County Sheriff’s Department. Saido is less than 2 years old.

“He’s still a puppy, but he’s a big puppy, he weighs 77 pounds,” Officer Andy Slagle, who is the handler for Officer Saido, said. “He and I bicker; he will fuss and knock over the water bowl when I’m out of the vehicle, he thinks he needs to be out as well.”

Before hitting the streets, Slagle and Saido had to attend training in North Carolina.

“Training was really tough, but very enjoyable,” Slagle said. “It was actually quite physically demanding and we did a lot of tracking, but it was very fun.”

According to Unicoi County Sheriff Mike Hensley, Saido officially joined the force in the spring.

“We got him back in April, but he and his handler, Officer Andy Slagle, had to go to the academy first,” Hensley said. “Officer Slagle was my first choice; he’s young and energetic and you need someone like that when working with a K-9, especially when tracking.”

Not only are officers Slagle and Saido partners, they are roommates.

“He stays with me at night; he’s family,” Slagle said. “I feed him, take care of him and even give him baths when he lets me – he hates water.”

When Slagle met Saido, he knew that he was the right dog for the job.

“When I went to demo the dogs, I knew once I saw him that he was the one. I did not want to demo another dog,” Slagle said. “We bonded really fast. They even said at Ventosa Kennels in Scotland Neck, North Carolina, that the bond between us was tight.”

Saido is equipped like any other UCSD officer.

“He has a vest. We have worked with several non-profits like Vested for K-9s, to get bulletproof vests and other vital equipment,” Slagle said. “These nonprofits are wonderful assets for smaller police departments with K-9 officers.”

According to Slagle, Saido has hit the ground running.

“We’ve worked more than 30 cases so far with roughly 16 arrests,” Slagle said. “We’ve hit a bunch of singles and doubles. We haven’t hit a home run yet, but it is coming.”

Saido is a multi-use K-9 and that is just the way Hensley likes it.

“This K-9 is used for drug search, but can be used for tracking and article search,” Hensley said. “He scored high on drug searching at the academy, but he also scored very high for tracking and article searches.”

According to Hensley, a K-9 is vital to a police force.

“You can’t go wrong with a K-9 – he’s definitely an asset,” Hensley said.

Hensley hopes that Saido will continue the great work and will do so for a long time.

“It all depends on the dog, but the average career for a K-9 is between 8-10 years,” Hensley said.