Linenburg, Blast welcomed on as newest K-9 unit
As David Linenburg with the Knox County Sheriff’s Department got himself settled at the large conference table, Blast, a 2-year-old shepherd mix dog, walked up, his ears at the ready, and handily rested his chin on the wood grain top, eager to make a new friend.
“He’s loving this,” Linenburg said of his new K-9 officer companion as he cast a proud smile in the brindle-colored dog’s direction. “He is always happy to go to work.
“As soon as I put my uniform on, he goes out and sits behind the Tahoe. He’s ready.”
The sheriff’s department has for the last several years had a K-9 officer program that is funded completely through private donations.
Most of the time, the department has two working dogs — one for each shift — and when K-9 handler and reserve deputy Bill Poe retired in February, the void was felt department-wide.
Linenburg, who has been with the department for a decade, had a plan — a plan nearly two years in the making.
He acquired Blast, an equal mix of German Shepherd and Dutch Shepherd, in 2017 as a puppy from local dog trainer Tony Neal, the owner of Pawzible Solutionz, 425 S. Hickory Corner Road.
Neal has a history in training working dogs for the military and was eager, Linenburg said, to have a similar impact here.
Blast, Linenburg said, is from a litter of Neal’s own dogs. His mother, he said, was a bomb-sniffing dog while his sire made a living sniffing out bed bugs.
“We came up with an idea,” Linenburg said with a wide smile. “He let me pick out a dog, we trained him together. I bought all the equipment myself.”
Linenburg has funded Blast’s training thus far; now that he’s officially a K-9 unit, the department’s donation fund will take care of his training and care.
Blast joins 3-year veteran K-9 officer Xraith, who belongs to Capt. Rich Wehrman, as the department’s second working dog.
Currently, Blast is trained only as a narcotics-finding dog, but more training is on the horizon. Up next, Linenburg said, is tracking.
A full patrol dog, which Xraith is, Linenburg said, does narcotics detection, handler protection, tracking and searches, among other things.
But so far, having officially been on the road with Linenburg for just two weeks, Blast looks to be handling police life just fine.
“He has a phenomenal nose,” Linenburg said. “He can pick up (the scent of) marijuana at huge distances. And he's so well-mannered. He likes to work, loves to work.
“He’s smart,” he said. “This was a learning curve for me. I’ve never trained a police dog, and there were certainly parts he picked up faster than I did.”
And Sheriff Doug Vantlin is thrilled, too.
When Poe retired, he parked his K-9-equipped patrol truck. Vantlin’s been looking at it ever since — hoping, he said.
“It makes a big difference for the department,” Vantlin said. “We’re split into two different rotations, two 12-hour shifts. With just one dog, we only have one shift covered.”
Having a K-9 handler, however, comes with its challenges. When one of them needs to be gone for training, they're short-handed.
But Linenburg’s excitement and dedication, the sheriff said, made it a difficult request to turn down.
“He’s passionate about being a K-9 officer,” Vantlin said. “He’s approached me several times over the last few months, giving me his sales pitch.
“And now that I’ve seen the dog, seen him work, he’s good at what he does. We’re glad to have him.”
Having a K-9 has become about a lot more than chasing down bad guys; having a dog on the department, Vantlin said, helps officers to connect with the people they serve.
“We can do demonstrations, go to festivals, things like that,” he said. “People in the public, they want to see these dogs.”
Linenburg, too, is all smiles when Blast is by his side. His dream of becoming a K-9 officer has finally come to fruition.
And Blast, meanwhile, is enjoying the good life.
“The joke of our house is that he looks like a tiger but acts like an ostrich,” Linenburg said. “When he’s snuggling, he likes to bury his head. He sleeps in the house, my son helps to take care of him. We built him a kennel together.
“I just enjoy a working dog,” Linenburg said giving Blast's ears an affectionate tug. “I have a passion for it.”