Case is a prime example of a young, energetic, happy-go-lucky dog. As a nearly two-year old German shepherd, he loves his Kong toy and playing in water. He also holds a noble title – K-9 unit with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources. The Courier got a chance to meet Case and his handler, Ranger First Class Jack Thain, at the Richmond Hill Fish Hatchery Sept. 17.
RFC Thain has been a K-9 handler for a little over a year, but boasts one of the best tracking dogs out of six units belonging to DNR. Thain and Case work as a team every day to hone their tracking skills. Beginning that training, however, wasn’t easy, according to Thain. Case came directly from Czechoslovakia.
“We started out green,” he said. “He taped up a lot of my fingers. When I got him, he didn’t know how to walk on a lead. All he had ever heard was Russian.” When Thain received Case the dog was just 13 months old.
According to Sergeant Phillip Scott, RFC Thain is one of the best K-9 handlers he’s ever seen.
“He understands working with dogs and has learned to read his dog Case exceptionally well,” Scott said. “Game warden Thain’s ability to continue to develop and understand his K-9 is the major reason for the dog’s success.”
Case serves as a full service dog, everything from tracking people to apprehension. Thain said that while tracking, his K-9 never comes off the lead. Case moves so quickly, he continued, that sometimes he misses track, and has to circle back and find it again. He tracks faster than Thain wants him to, and he works to counteract that.
“The pace he tracks the best at is the pace I try to keep him at,” Thain said. “But a lot of people still have trouble keeping up with it. He’s pulling me so my momentum is easy to keep. He’s harnessed and like a sled dog— he’s charging the way.”
Recently, DNR was gifted with a new GPS unit that will enhance Thain’s tracking ability, and work to make Case a better tracking dog, he said.
The unit, a Garmin DriveTrack 70 with accompanying collar and handheld GPS resembling a walkie-talkie, will aid in both training and active tracking calls, according to Scott.
“There are many suspects who are long winded, and can run for a while,” Thain said. “I can only track so fast. This will help us gather the direction of travel and path of the suspect.”
The Garmin, a generous donation from Richmond Hill business owner James Yount, was a gesture to support a worthy cause. DNR approached Yount asking for his help in acquiring the device. Thain had seen it in action in north Bryan County, and knew how critical that piece of equipment could be.
“We have been blessed in many ways and saw this as an opportunity to put our core principles into action, and I know what that kind of technology can enable them to do,” Yount said. “There was no question that we would support the request, it was certainly the right thing to do. I also have had many experiences that have involved technology integration and I know firsthand how it can enhance an organization’s capabilities.”
Features of the device allow Thain to monitor Case’s heartbeat, temperature and other vitals, and the GPS actually saves tracks, which is vital for rangers to review when mistakes are made.
“If the dog messes up the track, we can see his mistake, and what distracted him,” he added. “It will help him become a better tracking dog by enabling us to see what he did right and what he did wrong.”
For those rangers not tracking during a call, there is a mountable screen that goes into a truck that shows both the K-9 and its handler’s positions— in this case, Thain and Case.
“The GPS syncs with my handheld device, so deputies on the perimeter can monitor the location of myself and my dog,” he said. “From a safety standpoint, if something happens, they know where to come find me.”
Currently, the device has not been used by DNR rangers on a call, but Thain said the plan is to use it in training to learn. He thinks it will become one of the largest training tools for DNR.
Recently, Thain has introduced new concepts into their training, including tracking using spent shell casings, and tracking things in water.
“Without any training or introduction to it [shell casings], he actually hit on it the first time I put one out,” he continued. “What motivates him is reward, praise and talking to him like a three-year old.”
When tracking, it’s Thain’s job to locate the direction of the wind. He starts Case out downwind, because it’s his responsibility to put him in the right place as much as it’s Case’s to find it with his nose, he said.
Scott, who’s seen Case in action, can’t say enough about the two of them working as a team.
“I can’t brag on Jack [Thain] enough,” Scott said. “He volunteered to do this. No one gets assigned this job. This is a full-time job for him, is taking care of the dog. When he’s off, the dog still needs to be cared for, still has to be trained. He’s a remarkable dog and the combination of the two is what’s good.”
Scott said that Thain understands what goes on with his dog more than most people, unless they’ve been a K-9 handler before. He’s just gotten into it, but he’s like a guy who’s done it for many years, Scott added.
To demonstrate Case’s tracking skills, Thain suggested someone hide an article of theirs in the middle of a field. Within minutes, Case had located the item, a set of keys, and Thain retrieved it and walked it back. He apologized when handing the keys back, as Case had thoroughly licked them.
“You have to have the desire to do this,” Scott said. “He [Thain] gets nothing extra, he’s just got a huge additional duty.”