Decorated K-9 deputy reaches retirement; County salutes veteran Yazz, welcomes beginner Bongo
“Usually seven years is about the max you can get with a K-9,” said Kyle Burton, a Mille Lacs County Sheriff’s deputy and K-9 handler and training instructor.
The time has come for his dedicated German Shepherd partner, Yazz, to retire. By the end of August, nine-year-old Yazz will begin staying home instead of jumping into the squad.
Burton said it will be hard for him and the retiring dog when he leaves for duty with a new partner, two-year-old Bongo. Both dogs live with Burton and his family. K-9 officers remain property of the sheriff’s office during their career, but Burton will assume ownership of Yazz this month.
Sheriff Brent Lindgren told the Mille Lacs County Board at its Aug. 15 meeting: “He is the highest decorated canine in the history of the sheriff’s department.”
Yazz has earned more than 40 awards and lifesaving medals. The dog has been deployed at least 600 times and has been instrumental in more than 100 tracking arrests. Burton estimates the street value of drugs Yazz has helped find to be in the tens of thousands of dollars. Burton said Yazz is one of a handful of K-9 officers in the state to have earned the prestigious U.S. Police Canine Association’s “tracking exceptional” certification.
Burton said, “I’d say about 70 percent of the work is people (tracking).”
Burton and Yazz were the only K-9 team in the county for about five years, taking all calls at all times. The two have responded to calls from the Federal Bureau of Investigation; the state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension; the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms; the U.S. Marshall’s Office; other counties; and local agencies.
Burton said the K-9 officer work is often dirty as they track through woods, swamps and brambles. Burton describes one trek through such thick brush that he and Yazz were completely covered in mud. Since they were near Mille Lacs Lake and didn’t have time for a bath and shower, they jumped in the water before continuing duty.
He remembers Yazz’s very first call after he completed training. A guy had wrecked a vehicle that killed his passenger and then he had run away from the scene. Yazz tracked and found him in a swamp.
The family of the passenger who had been killed got in touch with Burton. They had people make memorial donations to benefit K-9s in the name of their deceased loved one.
“The longest track of his career was four miles,” Burton said.
It was -10 degrees when Yazz tracked a suspect along the frozen Rum River, and Burton was nervous about stability as the dog traveled along the river’s ice shelf. The partners got to open water and lost the suspect for a bit but kept going until they found ice to cross the river and backtrack to find the scent.
“I can remember I was cold, the dog was cold, and the guy holding the perimeter was cold,” he said.
The suspect had gone into the water, and Burton said he could hear the guy’s frozen pants cracking on the way to the hospital.
Burton said Yazz has had a few strains and sprains but only one sustained injury. The dog had tracked a man into a swamp, and the suspect began to assault him. Burton recalls the guy wrapping his legs around Yazz’s neck as if to drag him underwater and drown him, an act for which he was charged and convicted.
“Fortunately we’ve had no serious injuries,” such as a shooting or stabbing, Burton said.
Back to the beginning
The human deputy began working with K-9s in 2005, often acting as the “dummy” that dogs attacked and bit. He eventually became a K-9 handler and training instructor. Burton said it’s been a gratifying part of his career, and he enjoys the calls from fellow officers at 3 a.m. excited to share what their dog just accomplished. It was because of his connections in the field that Burton came to know about two-year-old Bongo.
Burton and Lindgren emphasized what a great value the department gets from the K-9 officers at a price of about $9,000 each plus squad outfitting and equipment. Both K-9s have been purchased 100 percent by community donations.
Burton said when the opportunity to purchase Bongo arose, he asked several people and places that contributed the first time. Many in the Milaca donated toward Bongo’s arrival in the community:
Benton Telephone,-$5,000; Blue Line Real Estate-$500; MN Municipal-$200; Milaca Fire-$2,000; Blue Moon-$500; Jim’s Disposal-$250; CMCMS Gorecki-$250; Rough Cuts-$500; East Central Energy-$1,500; Northern Glass -$500; Morning Star Market-$200.
Burton said Yazz and Bongo get along fine, but Yazz was “not happy” to be left home while Bongo got in the squad that day. He said the K-9 training covers a lot, but not the transition from duty to retirement or one dog to another. Burton said he’s thankful for the support from others who have experienced it before.
Meanwhile, Burton begins a whole new chapter with a young, newly trained dog that approaches his work with unbridled enthusiasm and energy. The K-9 handler said the situation is sad and exciting all at once.
He gestured toward Bongo and declared, “He’s got some big shoes to fill.”