URBANA — He's not even 2 and he doesn't understand much English, but Champaign County's newest employee is eager to show he's employee-of-the-year material.
Ivo, a German shepherd who hails from Slovakia, was scheduled to start his first shift at 7 p.m. Tuesday with his partner and handler, Champaign County sheriff's deputy Mark McCallister.
McCallister said his new partner has an impressive list of work skills.
"He's certified in tracking, narcotics searches, building searches, article and evidence searches and in aggression work," McCallister said of his handsome four-legged partner.
McCallister recently completed five weeks of intensive training with Ivo, the second canine partner in recent history for the patrol division of the sheriff's office. In 2003, former deputy Jerommie Smith trained his own Rottweiler to do detection. He was on the job about a year when Smith left to take another job.
For the last decade, the sheriff has had a dog at the Champaign County Courthouse to sniff out explosives. Gunner, the courthouse German shepherd, has been at work since December 2009 with handler and court security officer Tim Pavlik. He also is from Slovakia. Before him, Duke and his partner, court security officer Ken Haluzak, patrolled the building for explosives for about eight years until October 2009 when a fast-moving infection unexpectedly took Duke's life.
Both Pavlik and Haluzak have done plenty of conferring with McCallister, who was also a court security officer several years ago before becoming a patrol deputy for the Champaign County sheriff's office. McCallister has been a county employee for 15 years. As a child, his family had a German shepherd.
"It's a goal I've had," he said of working with a canine partner. "I'm excited to see what kind of positive impact we can have on this community."
Lt. Ed Ogle said the sheriff's department has wanted its own dog for a long time so as not to have to rely on other area police departments' dogs.
"Now we can be more self-sufficient. It's just another tool we can use. We hope to increase the number of drug arrests and seizures," Ogle said.
Ivo will live with McCallister and his family in Rantoul when they're not on duty.
Teresa Schleinz, assistant to Sheriff Dan Walsh, said Ivo was purchased from Global Canine of Leland, Ill., for $6,500. The 2012 Chevrolet Tahoe that's been customized for McCallister and Ivo cost the county about $34,000, she said.
Walsh said the approximately $5,000 training cost, the $6,500 price of the dog and about $4,000 needed to put a canine cage in the Tahoe is being paid for by money forfeited by convicted drug dealers. The Tahoe will be used for general patrol activity as well.
Ivo was trained in Decatur for about 10 weeks before he and McCallister began their five-week training session. McCallister said Ivo understands some English but responds mostly to commands in German and Dutch.
For the near future, they'll work the 7 p.m. to 3 a.m. "power shift," Ogle said.