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On a spring day in 2011, Brisco hopped into the backseat of a squad car to begin the first shift of his law enforcement career.

As the Black Mountain Police Department’s first K-9 officer prepares to retire in December, he leaves behind some substantial paw prints to fill.

On Oct. 29, just as his predecessor did over seven years ago, Cayman showed up for his first day of work. The Belgian Malinois, who will be handled by officer Logan Newhouse, will follow the path blazed by Brisco and his handler Sergeant Chris Staton.

Staton and his 9-year-old partner were paired when the department established a K-9 program under the chief at the time, Kevin Pressley. Acquiring a single-purpose dog, capable of searching for narcotics or tracking subjects, was a significant step, according to Staton.

“In Black Mountain, like everywhere else, we have our own issues with narcotics,” he said. "The department pursued the K-9 program to help address that and I’d always wanted to be a handler so I stepped into that role.”

Staton traveled to Shallow Creek Kennels in Sharpsville, Pennsylvania where he trained with Brisco, who came from Europe. Daily, over the course of three weeks, the pair worked on obedience training, locating narcotics and tracking.

“What the training does is not only teach the dog, but it also gets the handler used to how that specific dog will operate in real life,” Staton said. “It gives you a good idea of the kind of results we’ll see from that dog.”

Since earning their certification, Staton and Brisco have been required to re-certify every year and perform a minimum of 16 hours of training each month.

“Once we earned the certification, we came back and went to work,” said the 16-year law enforcement veteran.

As a certified handler, Staton continued to patrol with Brisco in tow, but on any given day they could be called for assistance.

“You still have your typical daily duties,” he said. “But there are added responsibilities as a handler.”

In their time together Staton and Brisco have assisted the postal inspector, the N.C. Highway Patrol; the Buncombe County Sheriff’s Department; Alcohol Law Enforcement and police departments in Asheville, Weaverville and Woodfin.

With Brisco’s retirement looming, Staton, will focus on his duties as a patrol sergeant. Newhouse, a Swannanoa native who began his law enforcement career in Black Mountain three years ago, was among several officers interested in becoming the department’s second handler.

“I’ve always had a love for dogs,” Newhouse said of his interest in the position. “This is a way to expand my knowledge of law enforcement, particularly the K-9 aspect of it.”

The department didn’t need to leave the state to find a trainer for its newest member, according to chief Shawn Freeman.

“When we knew we’d be replacing our K-9 we started looking at pricing for a replacement,” he said. “Many of the prices were anywhere between $16,000 - $18,000 and we ended up saving right around $4,000 going through Tarheel Canine Training, Inc."

The Sanford-based facility’s price includes the annual re-certification training, according to Freeman.

“I was very impressed by Tarheel Canine,” he said. “I’m really excited about what this dog will provide for the department.”

For Brisco’s successor, the department sought a dual-purpose canine, which is not only trained to find narcotics and track, but also in apprehension. Newhouse was introduced to around 10 dogs and tasked with choosing the best fit.

“They did three tests for each of them,” he said. “On one there was a big pile of boxes and suitcases and they showed the dog a toy and they spun the dog in a circle so it lost sight of the toy. Then they threw the toy into the pile and had the dog find it.”

The exercise gave Newhouse a glimpse of how determined each animal was to find the toy.

“Some of the dogs, when they spun them, completely lost track of where their toys went,” he said. “Cayman jumped right in and started sniffing for the toy. He never gave up.”

That wasn’t the only thing that stood out about Cayman to his new partner.

“He was very relaxed,” Newhouse said. “A lot of the dogs wanted to just run out when they opened their kennels. (Cayman) just stepped out, stretched and looked around. I like to think of myself as a calm individual and his personality seemed to match mine.”

Freeman believes Cayman’s personality will also help him be a strong ambassador for the department as well.

"He seems great around people," he said. "That's not always the case with working dogs."

Cayman found supporters in the community even before his arrival. 

Janet McKimpson participated in the town's Citizens Academy from September - November. The program gave participants an inside look at the inner workings of local government. 

McKimpson was impressed by the session led by Freeman, who told the 15 participants that the department was expecting the arrival of a new K-9 officer in the coming weeks. 

"I asked if the four-legged officer would ever be placed in harm's way," McKimpson said. "When I asked if he would be wearing a bulletproof vest, I learned that it wasn't in the budget."

McKimpson went home and discussed it with her husband James. They decided to donate a bulletproof vest for Cayman to wear while on duty. 

"We put our heads together and we felt like purchasing the vest for Cayman was the right thing to do," she said. "He's going to be doing an important job for the town, and I understand that certain things aren't in the budget. We felt like this was something important for him to have."

As the McKimpsons were learning about the incoming K-9 officer, Newhouse and Cayman were training together daily for a month in Sanford. The handler would wake up in a dorm that was attached to the kennels holding the dogs and sit for a class before beginning his field work with his dog.

“Multiple people have handled these dogs before they get to us,” he said. “So this experience really helps build the bond between the handler and dog.”

Newhouse grew up around dogs, he said, but there is a big difference between a working canine and a pet.

“Learning to work with a working dog gives you a different perspective,” Newhouse said. “You learn to see them and what they do in a different way.”

At work, Brisco and Cayman remain in a constant state of preparedness to perform their next tasks. 

“At home he’s like part of the family,” Newhouse said of Cayman. “He seems to really be able to kind of turn work mode on and off.”

Brisco, who has now been a member of Staton’s family for nearly a decade, no longer has to do that after his retirement at the end of the year.

“Everywhere I go, he goes,” Staton said of his partner. “My kids have grown up with him; my first son was only a month old when I left for handler school.”

While the sun sets on the era of the working aspect of the relationship between Staton and Brisco, it’s the dawn of a new partnership between Newhouse and Cayman.

“It was different,” Newhouse said of his first day on patrol with his new partner. “In law enforcement, to begin with, you never know what’s going to happen at any point. But now, with this dog that can be such a valuable resource in so many scenarios, you really have to be prepared for anything.”

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