Dog debate: Sheriff wants to give K-9s to handlers but county judge disagrees
The Carroll County Sheriff's Office plans to retire both of its K-9 dogs, Sheriff Bob Grudek said this week, but what will become of the two dogs is unclear.
Grudek submitted paperwork to Carroll County Judge Sam Barr requesting that the dogs be given to their handlers. Barr, however, declined to sign off on the request. Instead, Barr turned the matter over to the county's risk management attorney, Mike Rainwater of Little Rock.
Grudek said the sheriff's office had planned to retire Ringo, an 8-year-old Dutch shepherd, at the end of the year because of health issues.
After the other K-9, Tyson, was involved in a recent incident in Green Forest in which he pulled free from his handler and then bit and held a handcuffed suspect for approximately 90 seconds despite repeated commands to release, Grudek said the sheriff's office decided to retire both dogs.
Tyson is an 8-year-old Belgian Malinois. Grudek said Tyson also had shown signs of health issues at his last physical, but the sheriff's office had planned to keep him working for another year.
Instead, Grudek said the decision to retire both dogs was made after officials with the Berryville and Green Forest school districts informed the sheriff's office that they did not want the dogs on campus, where they had previously been used in drug awareness presentations to students.
"We thought well the best thing to do is, why not retire both dogs?" Grudek said. "So we had submitted the paperwork to Sam Barr ... and he made the decision that he was not going to sign off on the paperwork."
On Thursday, Barr was brief in his comments.
"The only thing I know to tell you is, once the county has property it can't be given away," he said.
Barr then referred further questions to Rainwater. A message left with Rainwater's office was not returned by press time.
"What they're saying is that the law says that any surplus property, county property, has to be auctioned off," Grudek said. "It's hard for me to say a living animal is -- we're not talking about a desk; we're not talking about a chair. We're talking about an animal."
Grudek said that when a previous Carroll County K-9, Rex, was retired, he was given to his handler. He said that is the same practice employed by the U.S. military and the Arkansas State Police.
"The precedent has already been set, that K-9 dogs are given to their handlers," he said.
Grudek acknowledged that some people have called for Tyson to be put down after the incident in Green Forest, but he said that would not be fair, given the circumstances.
"Our position is, it happened, but the dog did not do anything wrong," he said. "The handler could have done something different to prevent that from happening, but the dog was only doing what he was trained to do. If the dog had bitten a stranger, some kid that's just walking down the street, there's no doubt what decision would have been made."
Grudek said he believes the Green Forest incident influenced Barr's thinking on the issue.
"I think because of what has happened, that Judge Barr thought 'maybe I better not do that,' and so he in turn is sending all the paperwork to Mr. Rainwater," Grudek said. "Now we're just going to have get his opinion. Sam, I don't think wants to make any decision until he gets feedback from Mr. Rainwater."
Grudek said selling the dogs at auction could create a liability for the county.
"You would not want to sell a dog that's a K-9 dog, at an auction," he said. "Say somebody gets it and they get it home, all of a sudden it bites somebody. You're opening yourself up to a lawsuit. Because what has happened is that dog has become part of that trainer's family, and there's a bond there."
On the other hand, he said, he worries about what will happen if no one bids on the dogs.
"I don't see anybody coming to an auction and buying an 8-year-old dog that has medical problems ... so if nobody purchases the dog, what's next?" he said. "You'd have to put 'em down. And that, to me, would be sad to even consider. Those dogs have done a lot of good for the county."
Grudek said that in the six years that the CCSO has had the K-9 program, the dogs have been involved 146 arrests, 207 searches and 73 drug awareness classes with schools or civic groups.
Berryville School District Superintendent Phil Clark confirmed that he had made the decision not to have the CCSO K-9s on campus.
"As of right now, I have informed my administrators not to have the county dog on school grounds just for public peace of mind and safety." Clark said.
Clark said he viewed a video recording of the Green Forest incident before making his decision.
"I just can't take a chance bringing a dog on campus, especially with small children I have concerns about," said Clark, who said he also discussed the issue with Green Forest School District Superintendent Matt Summers.
"We both agreed it would be in our best interest," Clark said. "I just think it's unfortunate for the sheriff's department. It's not like I have anything against the sheriff's department or the drug dog but with small kids ... we just want to be on the safe side."
Summers could not be reached for comment Thursday.
Grudek said the individual who was bitten by Tyson during the Green Forest incident, Brennan Badley, is being represented by Fayetteville attorney W.H. Taylor. A message left with Taylor's office Thursday was not returned by press time.
Badley was not charged in the incident that resulted in the dog bite.