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A dog's tale

POSTED: December 26, 2013 6:03 p.m.

Chief Deputy Richard Bush, Sheriff Jimmy McDuffie and Deputy Ryan Williams stand with K9 officer A.J.

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A.J., an Effingham County Sheriff’s Office canine for the past four years, is enjoying her first days of retired life.

And what a life she’s led.

After serving the U.S. Army for several years as a bomb-detection dog, A.J. became an ECSO four-legged deputy, helping to locate missing people, track down criminal suspects and sniff out illegal drugs.

“A.J. has been a huge benefit to the Effingham County Sheriff’s Office and will be missed greatly,” said sheriff’s office spokesman Detective David Ehsanipoor.

A.J., a 12-year-old Belgian Malinois, joined the ECSO in January 2010. Deputy Ryan Williams was assigned to be her handler, and the two became inseparable partners.

“She’s been riding with me 12 hours a day for almost four years,” Williams said. “It’s going to take me some time to get used to her not being back there. Every time I hit the brake, she’d pop up to see what she was ready to do.”

A.J. is slowing down a bit, showing some early signs of hip dysplasia and not seeing as well as she used to. Her full-time job is now to be Williams’ companion at his home.

“It’s bittersweet,” Williams said of A.J.’s retirement. “She really misses me and I miss her (during work shifts), but it was a good Christmas because she finally gets to come home with me forever.”

Born in Belgium, A.J. was imported to Lackland Air Force Base in Texas and trained as a PEDD, or patrol explosive detection dog. She was assigned to the Rangers battalion based at Hunter Army Airfield and served the military for eight years.

That included three tours overseas — two in Iraq and one in Afghanistan. Williams said A.J. “jumped out of airplanes and helicopters and rappelled down fast ropes,” and used her trained sniffer to keep U.S. troops out of harm’s way.

“I heard she saved a lot of lives over there by finding the bombs,” Williams said. “She has an awesome background. She has been all over the world.”

Though her rappelling and aircraft-jumping days ended with her retirement from the Army, A.J. went on several memorable calls with the ECSO. Williams said one of his favorites was on Christmas night 2011, when A.J. sniffed out a Savannah man who broke into GeoVista Credit Union in Rincon.

According to investigators, the man smashed GeoVista’s front door with a sledgehammer and fled into a wooded area. A.J. tracked the man’s scent to a nearby pond.

“I found the guy hiding in a drainage pipe,” Williams said.

A.J.’s services were used 10-15 times a month on average, Williams said. Along with her ECSO calls, A.J. assisted local agencies including the Rincon, Springfield, Guyton, Port Wentworth and Sylvania police departments and the Bulloch and Screven county sheriff’s offices.

Her handler described A.J. as “ready to go to work” every day. That work day typically began with her making the rounds through the Effingham County Sheriff’s Office.

“It never fails,” said Sheriff Jimmy McDuffie, “she comes in that back door and she has to come in and around my office — at least once, sometimes twice, just checking things out and seeing if anybody’s in there who shouldn’t be in there.

“A lot of folks love her,” McDuffie continued. “It’s been four years, but it seems like it’s been forever that she’s been around.”

A.J. also has been a valuable asset in teaching local children about crime prevention and safety. Williams said he “went to every school” in the county with her and “they all know her by name.”

“They probably don’t remember me, but they remember her,” he said. “They love seeing her come in. They just smile and they always ask questions about her.”

Though A.J. is adept at tracking down suspects, she has been known to commit thievery of her own on occasion. Williams learned not to leave his lunch unattended in his patrol car.

“She usually tries to steal my sandwich in the front seat,” he said.

It remains to be seen if Williams will get another four-legged partner. That decision will depend largely on the behavior of his retired one.

“I’m going to take a break from it for a little bit, until I can see how she’s going to adjust to home life,” Williams said. “She has not been around other dogs. I’m going to see how she may react around other dogs or to being alone.”

So A.J. will just enjoy home life with her best friend — and certainly an occasional visit back to the ECSO to make the rounds.

“I’m sure Ryan will bring her back some for us,” McDuffie said.


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