Nathaniel Heffner has been with the Monroe County Sheriff’s Department since February 1st, 2022. Recently, Sergeant Heffner was assigned a young canine partner, who goes by the name Rebel. K-9 Rebel is a Belgian Malinois, which is a medium-sized herding dog that may be mistaken as a German Shepherd but can be easily distinguished by its short-hair. It is considered a single breed of canine, although associated with the breeds of Groenendael, Tervuren, and Laekenois.
Rebel was born in Canada, specifically in Beeton, Ontario, in the county of Simcoe. The population there is under 4,000. Rebel was raised and trained there, until he was 18-months old. “When they were training him [Rebel] during that time, they did not let him bond with anyone,” Sergeant Heffner iterated to the Herald. “It was always different people training him. They did that, so that when I started working with him, he would bond really hard with me.”
A Day in the Life – Wake-Up Call
Sergeant Heffner not only works with the young Rebel, but the K-9 is also a member of the Heffner family. “Rebel comes home with me, and I am 100 percent in charge of caring for him. He has a kennel, where he sleeps, and I have a giant fenced-in backyard.” Heffner went on to inform the Herald that he also has other dogs as well, but that Rebel is kept separated from them. Of note is that not only are there scheduled playtimes to ensure bonding between Heffner and Rebel, but also there are also playtimes to ensure bonding between Rebel and Heffner’s wife.
“We will get him up about an hour before I have to get going [into work],” Heffner told the Herald. “He [Rebel] will go outside and we will play tugs and get a bit of that early energy burned off. He goes to the bathroom during this time, and we also do a little bit of obedience training, which gets his mind ready and focused on the day ahead of us. Then I will get ready for our shift, we get in the squad car, and then we start working.”
When Sergeant Heffner refers to playing tugs, it is as you may think: a mini tug-of-war effort, which helps build the bond of brotherhood between the two law enforcers. The actual tug toy that teases K-9 Rebel into an energy-burning competition with Heffner, is only around 10 inches in length, and created from strong fabric, woven many times over.
On Shift and Vehicle Space
When Rebel is in the SUV squad car, his area to roam is 2/3 of the back of the vehicle, which includes the entirety of the back plus the area of one seat. If a prisoner is taken, they will have very little space on their ride to justice.
Sergeant Heffner relayed to the Herald that every shift presents its own agenda, where very rarely does one day mimic the previous. “Right now, for us, we are pretty busy on our rotation for the night shift,” Heffner started explaining. “The Sparta Police Department has been requesting our dog, Rebel, as well as other agencies, even from other counties.”
In addition to performing his duties as a K-9 enforcer, Rebel also fills his days with training and keeping fresh on tactics which he will utilize to apprehend criminals and investigate crime scenes. “We will do different things [with Rebel] like tracking, article recovery, and training with dope, so that he stays up to speed on that aspect of his duties,” Heffner stated. So, you can see that Rebel stays pretty active during the majority of his shift.”
Without divulging too much top-secret tactical information, Sergeant Heffner let the Herald know that there are certain movements that will act as a signal to Rebel, alerting the K-9 to what type of action may be required of him. “We have certain cues that let him [Rebel] know what we are about to have him do. Where I hook him up on his harness will have Rebel putting 2 and 2 together, and along with my command, he knows what to do. In the case of dope, he waits until I give the command, then he begins his search.”
When pressed by the Herald on the tracking aspect of Rebel’s duties, Sergeant Heffner gave a real-world example of when this talent would be utilized. “Let’s say that an agency gets in a motor vehicle pursuit with a suspect, and that suspect crashes and bails out of the vehicle and the law enforcement officers are not able to find them. Even an hour later, Rebel is able to pick up their scent, track the suspect and then locate them. If they give up at that point, everything will be fine” Heffner did disclose to the Herald that when criminals see a dog coming at them, it is usually met with immediate surrender.
When the Public Approaches a K9
When the Herald asked for advice on what to tell the public about approaching a K9, Sergeant Heffner stated, “I would say this [to the public] about any working canine, do not approach the dog hastily and ask the handler if you can pet them. These are working canines and they have a specific job, and they are not pets. It would be up to the handler to decide whether their dog feels like being approached or not.”
Specifically on Rebel, Sergeant Heffner said that he likes to remind people that Rebel is not a pet, but a tool for the Sheriff’s department. “He has a very specific and hard job to do. Approaching him out of the blue could startle him, as he is very focused. Just ask the handler, they will know best.”
When Rebel gets home after a shift, the first thing he does is eat. Then Heffner may go through some obedience training with Rebel, where Rebel’s reward is playing tugs. “He is still a puppy, at 18 months, so he has a lot of energy,” Heffner explained. “It is hard for Rebel to hit the ‘Chill’ button. We let him run around the house and the yard for hours, if he so chooses. This keeps him in shape and his mind stays stimulated.”
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