Helping seize hundreds of pounds of illegal drugs, capturing suspects and assisting with investigations are among Kane’s accomplishments in the past eight years.

The 9-year-old German shepherd also loved to conduct demonstrations for local schools, businesses and organizations.

But since his handler, Stephen Wheeles, recently received a promotion and took on a new role with the Indiana State Police, the decision was made to retire Kane.

He no longer wakes Wheeles up in the morning, ready to jump in the police car and go to work. He now serves as the family’s four-legged companion in a full-time capacity.

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Wheeles, who now is a sergeant and serves as the public information officer for the 10-county Versailles District, said both he and Kane have had to adjust to not being together on the job.

“It’s definitely a good experience that a lot of police officers don’t ever get the chance,” he said. “A lot of what we do is out there on our own. We may have a shift partner, we may have someone else that is working, but they may be a county away.”

Wheeles said Kane typically laid in his cage in the back seat of the car until he heard the police lights come on.

“To always have that tool there at a moment’s notice if things go downhill, that may be the equalizer,” Wheeles said. “I carried a button on my belt, so if things go downhill where I need instant backup, I push the button, my door pops open, and here he comes.”

He said the dog didn’t know what was going on or if the suspect had any type of weapon. He was just confident and ready to help out, and that gave Wheeles a good peace of mind.

“To have that tool, that confidence there that he’ll handle any situation, put his life on the line whether he knows it or not, to do what he’s trained to do at a moment’s notice, it was an honor to have him with me for those years I did,” he said. “It’s just the bond that you create.”

Youngest in recruit class

After graduating from Brownstown Central High School in 1997, Wheeles attended Covenant College and Oakland City University with plans to become a teacher. He switched to criminal justice three years in and then learned the state police was hiring.Even though he had heard it was tough to get hired by the state police, he went for it and made it through on the first try.After wrapping up his third year of college in 2000, he started at the Indiana State Police Recruit Academy in Plainfield. At age 21, he was the youngest in his class of about 50 recruits.

“It’s a boot camp type program — a lot of inspections, a lot of physical training, yelling at you, getting you up in the middle of the night — trying to just gear you toward the stresses of the career,” Wheeles said.

He graduated in December 2000 and was assigned to a field training officer and began learning about the different positions within the state police. He worked with three other field training officers before going back to his primary officer for observation. Once he passed that, Wheeles received a car and was on his own for a year.

He then was assigned to the Versailles District and worked for the gaming division, enforcing gaming laws and patrolling the three casino riverboats along the Ohio River.

The state police opened up transfers in 2005, and Wheeles moved to the Seymour Post. The next year, the state police talked about reviving the K-9 program and putting together a staff of 30 dogs.

There were only a couple of drug-detecting dogs, but they wanted to start having dual-purpose dogs, which also are trained in patrol and have the ability to track, bite and apprehend.

Observing Seymour teams

Paul Whitesell, who was the state police superintendent at the time, knew the Allen County Sheriff’s Department had a good K-9 training program. Lt. Mark Davis gave troopers at the Seymour Post a chance to apply.“At the time I started my career, we didn’t have a K-9 program, so it wasn’t even really a thought,” Wheeles said. “Then when it started happening, it was like, ‘It’s something I’ve always been interested in,’ so I started doing some research, and the lieutenant said he would like me to have it if our district was to get one.”In 2007, Wheeles went to Vohne Liche Kennels in Denver, which is in Miami County north of Indianapolis, to pick out his dog. Kennels get the dogs from Europe, where they are instilled with the urge to bite and grab and develop a ball drive, which is a training mechanism to reward it for obeying commands.

“You can find dogs in the United States,” he said. “I just think the bloodlines of the dogs that come from Europe are a lot better. Health-wise, they are usually better, and their K-9 programs have been established for so long. … Once they have these puppies, they start very young with imprinting things in these dogs.”

Before going to pick out his dog, Wheeles had gone on calls with Ian McPherson and Brian Moore, who were K-9 handlers with the Seymour Police Department.

“Those guys really helped me in knowing what to look for in a dog, what good characteristics are, what you want a dog to have, so I knew going into it from talking to those guys what I was looking for,” he said.

At the kennel, four troopers had eight dogs to choose from. Based on seniority, Wheeles was the second one to choose. Kane was his top pick, and he said he was glad it worked out.

“To me, he stood head and shoulders above the rest,” he said.

Wheeles then took Kane to Fort Wayne for a thorough examination and X-rays by a veterinarian. Kane had a clean bill of health and was good to go.

Training the handler

After bonding that weekend, Wheeles and Kane began 14 weeks of training at the Allen County Sheriff’s Department. It starts with basic obedience, getting the dog to heal, sit, lie down and stay. As long as the dog has a ball drive and a desire, the training comes easy for them, Wheeles said.“The ongoing joke is the dog could be trained in a couple weeks. It’s us getting trained that’s the hard part,” he said. “Most of the training is for us, it’s not for the dog. The dog will pick it up fast and know, but you need to know how to read the dog, communicate with the dog effectively and read the dogs’ signals that they are giving out to you.”The dogs are introduced to odors of different types of drugs and then presented with a line of boxes with holes on top, and one has drugs in it. It’s up to the officer to pick up on the dog’s change of behavior when they find the right box and react to the smell. The dog is rewarded with a ball.

Once training was complete, Kane was ready to go on patrol with Wheeles. They stayed at the Seymour Post until it closed in the winter of 2010 and merged with Versailles, where they continued to work primarily in Jackson, Jennings and Bartholomew counties.

Wheeles said Kane helped him sniff out several drug suspects.

“The dog, it’s not a big deal to him. It’s just like training to him. He got his ball, and that’s all he cared about,” Wheeles said. “They just know the odor of the drugs. The dog’s not detecting drugs. He’s detecting the odor of drugs. Dogs’ noses are thousands of times stronger than humans, so we may not be able to smell it.”

Kane also performed tracking. A couple of times, he helped find lost hunters. There also was an incident in which a suspect fled on foot from a Brownstown police officer and ran several miles through the snow into the Jackson-Washington State Forest, where Kane found the man.

In those instances, Kane has to know the difference between when to bite and when not to bite. It all goes back to the training.

“If the suspect continues to resist and doesn’t comply, then he’s a bite dog. He’ll bite and hold the suspect. If the suspect runs, they’ll bite and hold. That’s what he’s trained to do,” Wheeles said. “If we’re looking for kids or hunters, we don’t want (the dog) to bite. He needs to know that isn’t someone we’re biting.”

‘Kids just love the dog’

Wheeles and Kane also did several demonstrations at schools, including lining up the boxes with one containing drugs and having the students pick up on Kane’s change in behavior.“I would say that’s the thing he liked the most, and we got a lot of enjoyment out of,” Wheeles said. “The kids just love the dog and love to see him.”Wheeles worked his way up to the rank of senior trooper until the public information officer job came open this summer at the Versailles Post. He took a three-hour promotion test, and once he passed that, he applied for the position and went through a 10-question interview. The superintendent then selected the person to fill the role.

Wheeles landed the job and earned the rank of sergeant, but knew he no longer would be able to work with Kane. K-9’s typically work about 10 years, based on their health, and the timing worked out since Kane had worked for eight years.

“It’s toward the end of his career where he still has quality of life and can enjoy retirement and everything,” Wheeles said.

Wheeles signed a retirement contract with the state police, freeing them from any liability. The Versailles District still has three K-9 officers, but one only does narcotics.

While Wheeles has adjusted to his new job, Kane is getting used to retirement and just being a family pet.

“I think he’s pretty much adjusted to that and does pretty well. But still, every day, he’s up at the gate (at home) ready to go,” Wheeles said. “He has always been really good at home and really good with the family. He knows the family well, and the kids love him. It’s not going to change a whole lot in that aspect.”

Wheeles said he is appreciative of the Indiana State Police Alliance, Jackson County Prosecutor’s Office, Brownstown Veterinary Clinic and other organizations and individuals who provided support throughout Kane’s career. The K-9 handlers are responsible for funding their dogs’ needs, including veterinary care.

“Hopefully, he has a pretty good retirement and his health holds up,” Wheeles said.

Wheeles file

Name: Stephen Wheeles

Age: 36

Hometown: Brownstown

Residence: Jackson County

Education: Brownstown Central High School (1997); attended Covenant College and Oakland City University; Indiana State Police Recruit Academy (2000)

Occupation: Recently promoted to sergeant to serve as the public information officer for the Versailles District of the Indiana State Police

Family: Wife, Angie; three children

Pull Quote

“To have that tool, that confidence there that he’ll handle any situation, put his life on the line whether he knows it or not, to do what he’s trained to do at a moment’s notice, it was an honor to have him with me for those years I did. It’s just the bond that you create.”

Stephen Wheeles, Indiana State Police officer, on his canine partner Kane

Author photo
Zach Spicer is a reporter for The (Seymour) Tribune. He can be reached at zspicer@tribtown.com or 812-523-7080.