Sheriff’s K-9 retires

Thursday, February 18, 2021
Sheriff’s K-9 retires

The Stillwater County Sheriff's Office retired K-9 Figo recently. Figo is pictured here with his handler, Deputy Cactus Anderson. (SCN photo by Marlo Pronovost)

Approximately six years after starting his career as a K-9 officer for the Stillwater County Sheriff’s Office, Figo has officially hung up his doggy badge.

“It’s time to go be a dog,” said Undersheriff Randy Smith at a retirement ceremony Tuesday afternoon at the courthouse.

Figo appeared pleased with the move, lapping up a specially made doggie cupcake and playfully circling the room after the ceremony, attended by Smith, Sheriff Chip Kem, deputies, dispatchers, support staff and his handler, Deputy Cactus Anderson and Anderson’s family.

Figo will now make the gradual transition from working dog to Anderson’s family pet.

Anderson has been Figo’s handler since 2017. Smith had him for approximately two years prior to that.

Figo was an effective drug dog for Stillwater County, finding heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine and marijuana on countless traffic stops during the course of his career.

Drug forfeiture money generated from those cases actually paid for his replacement — Dino. Anderson and Smith flew to Pennsylvania recently to pick up Dino, and then drove back to Montana. With travel expenses, the total expenditure easily hit $15,000 — all paid with drug forfeiture money, said Sheriff Chip Kem.

NEW LAW CREATES NEED FOR NEW DRUG DOGS

On Nov. 5, 2020, the day after Montana voters approved recreational marijuana, Sheriff Kem began making plans he knew would be necessary on the law enforcement side. Specifically, the purchase of a new drug dog.

Because Figo — and most law enforcement K-9s — is trained to detect marijuana, the fact that marijuana is now legal effectively made most law enforcement K-9s useless, said Kem. The problem comes with obtaining search warrants on vehicles where a K-9 has indicated the presence of drugs.

Until this year, that indication (along with other factors a deputy would identify), was sufficient for a judge to sign a search warrant.

That indication from a K-9 is no longer definitive enough due simply to the fact that people can legally possess small amounts of marijuana.

Stillwater County was fortunate in that Figo was about a year from retirement anyway. But that’s not the case with most law enforcement agencies across the state. Deputy Anderson said he knows of 56 drug dogs in Montana that now cannot be used.