Although Greenwood’s newest police officer has only been on the job for two months, she’s had plenty of training — despite being just 19 months old.
Keena, one half of the Greenwood Police Department’s K9 unit, along with officer Dennis Wisner, took over after the department’s former K9, Miranda, unexpectedly died in August from heat stroke.
Wisner, who served 21 years in the Army before becoming a Greenwood police officer four years ago, said he went with fellow officers to the Von Klein Stein Working Dogs kennel in Sherwood once the department found out about Keena.
"We met her and we bonded, so that’s the one we picked," Wisner said. "If we hadn’t bonded we would’ve picked another dog."
Keena had already served for a time with the Mayflower Police Department before she started with Greenwood on Oct. 1, Wisner said.
"She was already certified; I had to get certified to catch up with her," Wisner said. "She already knew what she was doing, and I had to learn."
Keena is trained in narcotics detection, using a passive alert system to notify officers. If she finds suspected drugs, she’ll sit and stare at the spot from where she sniffs it out, as opposed to an aggressive alert method in which a dog will scratch at the spot of the suspected drugs.
Wisner said he had to get accustomed to Keena’s reactions and behavior, and also had to learn her commands.
Criss Gardner, who operates Von Klein Stein, said his K9 trainees come from all over Europe, with a majority hailing from Hungary — just like Keena.
The trainers usually instruct the dogs in their native language for about four to eight weeks before they’re teamed up with their human law-enforcement counterparts. The dogs become ready for duty after they’re about 1 year old and specialize in either narcotics or explosives detection, Gardner said.
Gardner said at first he had some reservations about Keena and Wisner being paired. Female dogs tend to be a little more impressionable and temperamental than male dogs, Gardner said, and Wisner’s tall stature and drill instructor tone might have made Keena nervous. Both adjusted very well, Gardner said.
"That was one of my worries, was simply his voice inflexion," Gardner said. "I tell the guys it’s not so much what you say, but how you say it."
Both Keena and Wisner earned a gold star in the class and became one of the most consistent teams in tracking, obedience, detection and other areas, Gardner said.
"Usually the dogs have a weak area, but she did well overall," Gardner said.
Keena is bite certified, meaning she is taught to grab hold of a suspect and keep holding on until police arrive. Wisner and Keena have to gain certification each year, and train daily with a biting sleeve and full biting suit, Wisner said.
"With her ability to bite, I have to know that she’ll do what I tell her to do when I tell her to do it," Wisner said. "I’m the only one who deals with her," adding that his partners are familiar with her commands should anything happen to him.
Chris Haas with Mars Petcare in Fort Smith said his company provides Keena’s food, and covered about half of her expenses, along with supporting a portion of Wisner’s schooling.
"We really saw the outreach. We heard that they actually had the funding secured, and then two or three of the donors backed out at the last second when they had the dog," Haas said. "It just seemed like the right opportunity to help out in the community, and also help out for a good cause."
Wisner said Keena works alongside him every day. She also lives with Wisner and his family at their home.
Keena has never had a problem with neighbors, his children, ages 9 and 15, or their friends, Wisner said.
"She’s awesome with my wife and kids — very social," Wisner said. "You can tell when we go to work and when we’re at home. She’s a totally different dog."