NEOSHO, Wis. (CBS 58) — When Jessie Smith moved his family to Wisconsin roughly a decade ago, he knew he had a skill that could be valuable to his new community.
“I went and met the sheriff, who was newly elected at the time,” Smith said, recalling his visit to the Dodge County Sheriff’s Office in 2014. “I just gave him my background. I said for the last 14 years I’ve been training police dogs, working police dogs, working for the military, training military dogs and then worked for one of the biggest kennels in the United States in Indiana for two-and-a-half year’s training dogs for multiple different sources.”
The former law enforcement officer turned dog trainer offered to share that experience with Dodge County department with the hope of providing a safer community for his children to grow up.
“They took me up on that offer,” Smith recalled. “I trained with them once a month for about six months and that lead to the first department calling, and then another department calling, and then another one.”
Since the Spring of 2016, the husband-and-wife duo have trained 119 police dogs just in the state of Wisconsin. They also have dogs working in Iowa, Indiana, Maryland, Virginia and New Jersey.
“There’s a lot of people that come from all over the United States to come train with us,” Smith said. “Partly because the quality of instruction, partly because of the facilities we’ve been able to accommodate. We just progressively take our resources and reinvest in ourselves to make sure that we’re putting out the product that gives quality on the street.”
That reinvestment includes purchasing a 12,000 square foot schoolhouse in Neosho to conduct training, everything from simple tasks to helping the dogs search for narcotics and weapons or apprehend suspects.
“I want the department to be safe. I want the community to be safe. I want the handler to be safe,” Smith said. “The dog is a great resource for that.”
According to Tiffany Smith, 100% of the dogs at Jessiffany are imported from Europe with primary breeds being Dutch Shepherd, German Shepherd and Belian Malinois. While these breeds of dog have proven to be great assets in law enforcement, Smith says the dog/handler relationship is key.
“We need to know as much about the handler as possible and as much about the community the dog is going to service,” Tiffany Smith said. “Not every dog will work with every handler.”
She says that is all determined prior to and during training.
“We train hard,” Tiffany said. “If you trained easy scenarios, then if a hard thing in life comes up, you’re not going to be able to complete the task and you’re putting the community in jeopardy and the handler, and all involved. Our training is never stagnant. We’re always trying to increase our capabilities and make it just as far-fetched as possible, so the dogs are exposed environmentally to all scenarios so when something does arise, we have the ability, they have the ability to hopefully be a success.”
Those abilities were showcased first-hand in Fond du Lac on Sunday, October 14, when K9 Iro, a dog trained at the Jessiffany facility, was shot three times protecting his handler and the community during an altercation with a man.
While K9 Iro received life-threatening injuries, Jessie Smith says the Fond du Lac incident is a success story.
“It’s heartwarming and it’s tough because of the love for the dog, the love for the dogs,” Jessie said. “We don’t want that to happen, but if the suspect is going to offer that kind of violence, I would prefer it to not be directed straight at the handler from the moment it starts. If the dog can give him (handler) a second to evaluate, process and decide what his next course of action is so that he can go home safe to his family, that’s what we prefer.
Iro continues to make great strides in his recovery, something Smith and the community are happy to see.
“He’s strong. He’s determined. I wouldn’t be surprised if he tried to do it again,” Smith said, speaking to Iro’s bravery. “Everybody’s life has value, and we want the dog to provide the most intense security possible.”
Iro’s bravery a shining example of the important work that continues to take place in Neosho.
“When I can look at his parents and go ‘This is why we do it’ then I would do it again,” Smith said. “It can happen anywhere, and this reminds us of all that evil is just around the corner and our job is to prepare ourselves, and in my case, the dog, for that inevitable encounter and is he ready and is the team ready to do it together.”