Tuesday, October 04, 2016


Leader staff writer

With a short leash in hand, Lonoke County Sheriff’s Deputy Tim Huett and his K-9 partner, Pepper, slowly circle an SUV in the parking lot of the Lonoke County Detention Center, the dog sniffs at the passenger side bumper and lies down.

It’s his signal that there’s a bomb hidden in the bumper.

Sheriff’s office spokesman David Bufford describes Pepper’s olfactory abilities like this: Most people walk in the house and smell soup. This dog can smell the individual ingredients.

Pepper is a highly trained expert with a real nose for explosives, and if there had been a presence of chemicals in the bumper, explosives experts would have been brought in to handle the bomb.

For his effort, Pepper was allowed to play with his favorite tennis ball for a few minutes. While deadly serious training to his handler, it’s simply a game with a reward to Pepper.


Deputy Pepper is ex-military, dark, high energy, and one of the newest members of the Lonoke County Sheriff’s Office.

Actually, Pepper is a 77-pound Dutch shepherd that until last spring served as a bomb dog at Little Rock Air Force Base, but now he’s one of three dogs that make up the K-9unit at the sheriff’s office. The dog is trained to respond to commands from its handler and detect about 25 different explosive-related chemicals, but because of an incident involving the biting of a handler, the military offered Pepper to the sheriff’s office at no charge.

A dog and the training cost the department about $8,500, and the trained canine serves for about six years, Bufford says.

Huett, the dog’s handler and 24/7 partner, isn’t worried about Pepper’s past because he says the military doesn’t bond with their dogs like his department does.

Barber says, “We’ve bonded.”

In the military, dogs are boarded at night and work with different personnel throughout the day with no opportunity to bond with a single person, says Bufford.

Bufford says, “Pepper has a high drive” and is trained to bite on command.

Pepper is also available to other county agencies or to Lonoke and other area schools for bomb detection if ever needed, Bufford says.

Canines are officially listed as equipment, but at the sheriff’s office, the dogs are so much more.

For Tyler Barber, being a dog handler “is a commitment. It’s almost like having a child.” The dog needs food, attention, a few pats on the head, and when planning a vacation, Barber says he has to find a babysitter.

But when it comes to work, his partner Pajti (pronounced Piety) is all business.

It starts when Barber puts his uniform on. “Pajti knows. He’s ready to go,” he says.

The dog, which also has an official vest, is “super protective” of Barber and is territorial when in the car.

K9 vests often are often equipped with cameras and microphones.

“He barks if someone walks up on the car,” and that’s added awareness for law-enforcement officers who patrol alone.

Barber says, “He’s a good partner.”


While perhaps seen as modern military equipment, canines have served in a variety of roles throughout history.

Trained dogs were used on the front lines as early as the mid-7th Century by the Egyptians, Romans and in recent times by the Russians and U.S. military for a variety of reasons, including delivering messages and explosives, and as scouts, sentries and even trackers during World War II in the Pacific.

Their role in the Pacific is celebrated by a monument at the Naval facility on Guam, and later, dogs served in Vietnam and the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Navy Seals depended on highly trained dogs during the nighttime raid that resulted in the killing of Osama bin Laden in Pakistan in 2011.

During World War II, Doberman Pinschers and German shepherd breeds were used, but those have been replaced by the Belgian Malinois and Dutch shepherd — a heartier dog breed that is great for patrol and law enforcement.

These dogs are smart, loyal and have an astute sense of smell and are especially suitable for law enforcement, says Bufford.

Police dogs can track suspects. It’s nearly impossible to hide from a dog, and once the suspect is caught, the dog can act as guard. The K-9 is trained to attack if their handler is attacked and can bite on command.

Many dogs have a specialty, such as searching out cadavers, drugs or the ingredients used to make explosives.


The dogs enhance the sheriff’s office ability to handle certain situations, as well as aiding when it comes to serving high-risk search warrants, Bufford says.

Pepper is trained to locate explosives and is also trained as a patrol dog, meaning he rides in a law-enforcement vehicle, while the department’s other two dogs, Pajti and Yasper, both Belgain Malinois, are trained to find drugs and also ride shotgun from the backseat.

Yasper is pronounced “Jasper.”

The drug dogs are also able to discern a variety of odors in the air, it would be hard to hide drugs from these dogs, says Bufford. In fact, I-40 and I-30 are major drug trafficking routes, so the dogs are an important part of the sheriff’s office.

“The drug dogs are used every day,” Bufford says.

Both drug dogs are friendly when not working, but can also bite on command and can track for short distances.

Their noses don’t have the power of a bloodhound or to track long distances, but they are highly intelligent and well- suited for law-enforcement needs, Bufford says.


After their shifts — both man and dog average 40 hour a week — Pajti goes home with Barber, spending much of his time in the backyard.

Barber says Pajti is a neighborhood favorite and even plays ball with the local kids.

“He spits his ball through the fence and the kids throw it back,” he says.

Like Barber, the entire department is attached to the dogs, especially Pajti. The dogs are hard to resist because they “are great and so well behaved,” Bufford says.

In fact, Bufford is the first to volunteer to baby-sit Pajti while his handler is on vacation, and he tells the story of Pajti getting out last year during an ice storm and while out, the dog was hit by an ice truck.

“It was tough,” but Pajti recovered nicely, Bufford says.

When not on partrol or part of a drug search, Pajti also serves as the department’s goodwill ambassador.

Bufford says he’s eager to demonstrate his skills for Lonoke County’s school kids, which is always followed by a hands-on patting session.

“The kids love it,” Bufford says.