ANGOLA — A 5-year-old Belgian Malinois named Zara is one of the newest K-9 officers to come to Steuben County.
She’s a member of the Angola Police Department K-9 Unit.
She and her handler, Brian Noll, recently finished her training and hit the streets together.
Zara will soon receive a duty vest, donated by the Angola Rotary Club.
Bobbi Gill of the Angola Rotary Club said the vest has been ordered and is a few weeks out from delivery.
Zara came from Texas after being purchased by an Allen County family as a home and personal protection dog.
After not getting along with another dog the family owned, it was decided she needed another job.
She then went to the Allen County Sheriff’s Department where she went through training and was on the road for a bit before coming to Angola to work with Noll.
She now lives with Noll and his family full time.
“She came right into our house, started training with me,” he said. “She plays with my wife, my kids, gets up on my couch.”
Zara is trained in narcotics detection, tracking, bite, aggression and obedience.
“Narcotics and aggression are probably her best,” Noll said.
In explaining some of her training, Noll said someone could punch him and she would bite instantly to protect him without having to be commanded. At the same time, he said 30 preschool children could jump on her and love on her and she’d be fine.
“She’s a lover up until I say the command to bite,” he said.
Noll spent approximately six months with Zara learning about her and bonding in addition to the training classes the two took together.
Noll himself is a graduate of Angola High School and spent time on the Steuben County Sheriff’s Department as a deputy before transferring to the city department.
They had to adjust to one another and get to know each other before taking to the streets.
“Her purpose is to work,” he said.
Noll wears his bulletproof duty vest during every shift. That won’t be the case for Zara, however, as her temperature will rise quicker than his.
“I can keep mine on and sweat in it all day long,” he said. “That’s not the case for her. She could get too hot and start to shut down quickly.”
When he knows he’s going into a situation she may need it, he will whenever possible deploy Zara with her vest on.
He will have to do additional training with Zara in her vest to get her used to it.
“That’ll be a new hurdle for us,” he said. “We’ve never trained with one.”
The department has a fund for the K-9 unit that is funded by donations from the community. Without that fund and donations such as the one from the Rotary, they wouldn’t be able to outfit the dogs with vests such as the one Zara will receive.
The fund also pays for things like food, toys, veterinary bills and the dogs themselves.
The pair are, like other K-9 handlers in the county, on call full time. If an incident comes up and a dog is needed, the pair could be called up to deploy.
“She’s truly a one of a kind dog,” Noll said.