DNREC adds two K-9 teams to Delaware state parks patrol

Delaware State Parks Natural Resources Police Officer Trevor Ditmore, left, and Cpl. John Lister are pictured with K-9 partners Leo and Vos. DNREC’s Police State Parks Enforcement Section is adding the dogs to their force. (Submitted photo/DNREC)

DOVER — More frequently, state parks police officers are working outside their vehicles in addition to rolling patrols.

By early December they’ll be joined by an additional eight paws and two noses on the ground.

German Shepherd Leo and Belgian Malinois Vos are nearing K-9 training in patrol and apprehension work with their handlers/partners, and will be ready for law enforcement duty after a 13-week course administered by Delaware State Police.

DNREC’s Police State Parks Enforcement Section is adding the dogs to their force at a cost of $20,000 for the first year, including money needed to start the program. The state is focused on defraying costs through donations and grants, and the program has already raised $4,500 from the Friends of Cape Henlopen and Blue Heron Agility (two bulletproof vests) organizations.

State Parks Officer Trevor Ditmore and Cpl. John Lister have spent the last few weeks bonding with their crime-fighting partners, who also figure to track down lost hikers, the elderly and missing children.

So far so good, Ofc. Ditmore said Friday. He brings Leo out to play several times a day, playing catch and giving belly rubs when the 68-pound, 2-year-old canine rolls over.

Leo will be stationed at Lums Pond State Park in Bear and Fort DuPont in Delaware City while monitoring New Castle County, while Cpl. Lister and 75-pound, 3-year-old Vos are billeted for Cape Henlopen State Park and patrols in the southern part of Delaware.

According to the ranger, Leo (his name chosen as a short for “law enforcement officer”) is just as energetic, inquisitive and responsive as the day he was chosen from among 22 furry candidates at the Vohne Liche kennels in Indiana last month.

“The first month is a bonding period so we can develop a relationship,” Ofc. Ditmore said.

“He’s a fun-loving guy with a lot of energy and a lot of ball drive. (Leo’s) definitely fitting in well here and for now he’s just being a dog and doing what normal dogs do at home.”

Next year, Leo and his partner will begin a 13-week explosives detection scent training program, followed by Cpl. Lister and Vos (the Dutch word for “fox”, which he resembles with a dark orange coat, black face and paws) learning all about how to detect narcotics.

The K9 teams will be available to assist wherever needed throughout the state, in any park area or to assist outside law enforcement jurisdictions.

“It makes sense to split our resources to get the most of training,” Ofc. Ditmore said. “Each team will still be able to be used in the other’s region if and when there are events that warrant it.”

DNREC said the additions add another “layer of safety for parks guests. A high visibility patrol, their presence will deter crime and at the same time engage the community.

“The teams will be available for outreach through demonstrations and programming to the community as a whole and specific Delaware State Park events and summer camps.

The state parks officers traveled to Indiana Aug. 6-9 and were presented a list of dogs of all ages and breeds. Vohne Liche kennels has trained police and military dogs for over 5,000 enforcement and government agencies, DNREC said.

Ofc. Ditmore said Leo’s dogged tenacity and lack of distraction while chasing a tennis ball in a field separated him during a tryout in Indiana. Some dogs became distracted by butterflies, the officer said, but Leo didn’t and even kept his nose to the ground as a flock of geese flew overhead.

A naturally curious German Shepherd, Leo would also examine and play with items rolled toward him, and jump onto and over obstacles placed before him.

“We did different tests each day and slowly eliminated them,” Ofc. Ditmore said.

A GoFundMe account to support the program is available online at www.gofundme.com/support-new-de-state-park-k9039s. Tax-deductible donations via check can be mailed to: Delaware Community Foundation, PO Box 1636, Wilmington, DE 19899. The memo line should include Delaware State Parks Fund.

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