Inmates at the Greene County Detention Center and workhouse have another compelling reason not to try and smuggle drugs inside.
His name is Sig.
Sniffing out drugs and other contraband is all a big game to the jet-black Belgian Malinois dog, who began his service to the Greene County Sheriff’s Department this week.
Sig is enthusiastic about his new job, said his handler, Sgt. Matthew McCamey.
“The dog doesn’t know work. It’s play,” McCamey said. “The more they find it enjoyable, the harder they go after it to get rewarded.”
Sig is the first K-9 ever assigned full-time to the corrections branch of the sheriff’s department.
“It gives us another tool to help us keep contraband from getting in the facility in the form of illegal drugs,” said Roger Willett, Greene County Detention Center administrator.
Sig “is a deterrent we can use as we see fit,” Willett added.
Belgian Malinois dogs, also known as Belgian shepherds, were developed as working animals. Their keen sense of smell makes them valuable to law enforcement for locating narcotics, explosives and accelerants in arson investigations.
The breed is also used for human suspect apprehension in police work, along with search and rescue missions. The U.S. Secret Service uses Malinois dogs to guard the White House grounds.
Sig is about 18 months old. His journey to Greene County began in California, where Sig was rescued from a shelter. He was brought to Greene County by the GreenePets Foster Network, which serves the Upper East Tennessee area.
GreenePets partners with CrittersWork Service Dog Partners, Inc. “and we now foster Service Dogs in Training as well as our own adoptable pets,” according to the GreenePets Foster Network website, greenepets.org/index.html.
Sig was trained at All Creatures Country Club, an animal rescue on Kitchen Branch Road.
Sig and another dog were brought to Greene County from the California shelter. Sig had the right stuff to be trainable for police work, McCamey said.
“We have to see if they have any drive and [adapt] in a work program,” McCamey said. “He has a lot of drive, and if they have a lot of drive to play, you can get them to work. They get a reward, and that’s what they are after.”
Sig is intelligent and hyper-sensitive to his surroundings. Standing outside the jail on East Depot Street, Sig spots another dog about a block away and unleashes a series of loud, muscular barks that turn the heads of passers-by.
“He’s good with people but a dog is a dog,” McCamey said.
As all partners should, McCamey and Sig are learning to communicate with each other.
“We have to be able to bond. He has to trust what I’m doing and I have to know how to take him,” he said. “He will tell me what he’s got going on. If he came onto an odor and he’s searching for drugs he will alert me.”
Sig lives with McCamey and his family when not on duty.
“He has no problems around the kids and he loves my wife. If there’s a stranger or another animal around, he lets me know,” he said.
McCamey has been a corrections officer for seven years and a supervisor for the last two years. He enjoys working with Sig.
“I love it. It’s just like having a partner, so to speak,” McCamey said. “He depends on me and I depend on him to do the job. The drugs and the narcotics, that’s what he’s here for.”
Sig was certified this week by the National Narcotics Detector Dog Association, and is becoming familiarized with the jail and county workhouse.
Inmates know when Sig’s in the house.
“They show him a lot of respect. They don’t mess with him,” McCamey said. “They look, they observe, they really don’t say a whole lot.”
Willett said more than 50 workhouse inmates are sent out daily on work-release assignments.
“The big thing is to try to keep contraband out of the facility. There are people who come into this facility trying to get off drugs and if we can keep drugs out, it helps to take that temptation away from them,” Willett said.
Training for Sig took about four months, McCamey said.
“We’re glad to have him. We look forward to having him work within this department,” Willett said.