New K9 for sheriff’s office ‘happy to assist’ with Pharrell’s festival

K9 Gaston is the newest addition to the Virginia Beach Sheriff's Office (Southside Daily photo/Courtesy of the Virginia Beach Sheriff's Office)
K9 Gaston is the newest addition to the Virginia Beach Sheriff’s Office (Southside Daily photo/Courtesy of the Virginia Beach Sheriff’s Office)

VIRGINIA BEACH — Authorities here recently welcomed a new explosive-detecting dog into the Virginia Beach Sheriff’s Office family.

K9 Gaston is a 3-year-old German shepherd given to the sheriff’s office this year by an anonymous donor, said Kathy Hieatt, spokeswoman for the VBSO.

K9 Gaston’s primary function – working alongside his handler, Deputy Aaron Whitehead – is to screen the Virginia Beach Courthouse and other public areas for the presence of explosives or firearms.

“Our K9 Unit has not been asked to help with Something in the Water yet, but would be available and happy to assist, if needed,” Hieatt wrote in an email. “Our K9s have assisted with concerts, festivals, races, etc. in the past.”

K9 Gaston replaces K9 Roxie — the sheriff’s office’s first explosive-detecting dog. K9 Roxie – a 7-year-old labrador-schnauzer mix — retired and found a home with her former handler, Whitehead. During her tenure with the VBSO, which began in 2013, K9 Roxie completed 5,400 operational searches and 420 hours of training.

The Virginia Beach Sheriff’s Office K9 Unit was established in 2013 and consists of two dogs and two handlers. In addition to K9 Gaston, K9 Candy is a 7-year-old German shepherd trained in narcotics detection, Hieatt said. Since joining the VBSO in 2013, K9 Candy and her handler have completed thousands of operational searches and helped seize more than 1,200 pounds of marijuana and one kilogram of heroin.

The Virginia Beach Police Department also employs K9 officers and, and their dog training is nearly identical to the training of VBSO K9s, said police Sgt. Tull. That training is layered, Tull said, and each layer builds upon the one before it.

All of the dogs are male German shepherds or Belgian Malinois and imported from trainers in Holland, Belgium and the Czech Republic. The dogs are raised and receive extensive obedience training there, which is one reason why officers often shout commands at their dogs in Dutch or German.
Vendors eventually buy and import the dogs to the U.S. Cobra Canine and Ventosa Kennels are examples of American vendors through which VBPD has bought dogs, which typically cost about $7,000–$10,000 each.

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