LAKE COUNTY, Ill. — There is a special bond between a K9 police dog and its handler, and that bond is proving to be beneficial for the Lake County Sheriff’s Department.
When the position of K9 Handler opened up, Officer John Forlenza, a department veteran, jumped at the chance.
“I was fortunate enough to be chosen,” Forlenza said.
As soon as Dax, a German Sheppard puppy, was able, he started training.
“Dax went through, prior to meeting me, a 12-week program, a pre-training program,” Forlenza said. “Then I came into the picture where I spent eight weeks just going to the kennel facility in Grayslake.”
While both have devoted their lives to law enforcement, when the shift is done, they go home together.
“This is what he does at home typically, he is very chill,” Forlenza said. “You put him in a police car, he is all business ready to go to work.”
Dax is trained in search and rescue, cadaver recovery, narcotics and suspect apprehension and K9 dogs come with a sense of smell that is up to 100,000 times greater than a human’s.
One example of Dax’s amazing skills came when he and Forlenza were called to find a man who had committed a home invasion. From 100 yards away, Dax was able to find the suspect.
K9 patrols have been used in the United States since the early 20th century. In the modern day, the United States Police Canine Association is the accrediting agency that certifies dogs and holds competitions.
“We have been fortunate enough to take 1st place in that numerous times in regional competition,” Forlenza said.
At the Lake County Sheriff’s Department, Dax is part of a team of K9 cops.
“They are massively important,” Deputy Chief Christopher Covelli said.
Covelli says in recent years, the detail went from three to 10 and the results could not have been better.
“They go out every single day throughout our community, and not just in Lake County, they are called and dispatched to assist local counties, other local jurisdictions throughout the Chicagoland region,” Covelli said.
While the hard-working dogs have many duties, Forlenza says the best part about their job is helping find people in their greatest times of need.
Last November, when a young woman went missing after suffering a mental health crisis, Forlenza and Dax were called to the scene and when they finally found the woman, her body temperature had plunged to 80 degrees.
“Clearly the person would not have survived if they weren’t found, and that’s a big source of pride and it’s a great reward for the job that we do,” Forlenza said.
Dax and Deputy John have been part of 300 rescues or apprehensions over the years and Deputy Chief Covelli says the department will likely be adding more K9 units in the future.
“It’s been a blessing, it’s been very rewarding, but I don’t think we’re done yet. I think he has a lot of gas left in the tank,” Forlenza said.