New faces, new dogs, take over Morrison County’s K9 unit

By Liz Verley

Old-timers turn over the leash, their dogs retire, new ones take up the challenge

Morrison County has had K9s working with deputies for the past 25 years. Two of the original K9 handlers, Deputies Chip LeBlanc and Larry Converse trained together in Staples. At that time LeBlanc was a Morrison County Deputy and Converse was Motley Police Chief. Converse later joined the Morrison County Sheriff’s Department as a deputy.

Two years ago Converse retired his last K9 partner—Chip and on April 1 LeBlanc retire his final K9 partner—Storm. (Other deputies that are no longer in the program include Michel Wetzel, Bruce Motes and Dan Eastvold)

LeBlanc said, ‘My dog is 11 years old. It is time for him to retire. Usually a dog is good for four or five years and then if you are going to stay in the program you start all over with training a new one.”

He added, “Sometimes you can go through all the training and the dog just isn’t suitable and won’t work for one reason or another.”

The Sheriff’s Department has two younger deputies ready to pick up the challenge where Converse and LeBlanc have left off. They are Dan Rocheleau and Eric Hanneken.

Each have their dogs and, although they are young, the training has began.

Rocheleau’s dog—Brix—is a purebred German Shepherd from the Czech Republic. At the present time they are enrolled in a ten week program which trains five days a week. The training includes the skills of tracking, apprehension and narcotic detection.

If all goes well Brix, as well as Hanneken’s eight month old German shepherd—Diamond, will be certified in August at the Region 12 meet. Hanneken is scheduled to begin the 10 week training course after Rocheleau has completed his.

After the dogs have completed their 10 week training period they can the begin traveling with the officers.

Where LeBlanc and Converse owned their own dogs, Hanneken’s and Rocheleau’s were purchased through donation from various organizations and individuals. So far $20,000 has been raised for the dogs, their care and their training expenses.

Throughout their careers both LeBlanc and Converse have competed in both state and national competitions.

Converse said, “Having a trained dog is a great deterrence. Ninety-nine percent of the time they are a prevention tool. You walk into a bar where a fight has been reported, just the presence of your dog makes a big difference.”

Speaking in regards to his retirement from having a dog as a partner any longer, LeBlanc said, “One of the highlights of the program was the demos we gave at the schools and for groups and we have done a lot of them. It was something the kids really enjoyed. That is what it is about. They are a great PR tool.”

His greatest achievement as a handler came when Storm tracked and captured a man in Mille Lacs County who had murdered someone and was on the run. Storm tracked him through the swamps. That was quite an achievement.”

Both Rocheleau and Hanneken said becoming involved in K9 training and handling was something they both wanted to do for a long time. And they both recognized with the old-timers hanging up the banner they would have “big shoes to fill.”

Hanneken said, “When the dogs are up and running, there will be one on duty seven days a week.”

Along with giving up his duties in the K9 unit, LeBlanc is also retiring from the dive team as a diver. He will remain on as supervisor on recovery operation.

There again LeBlanc was the first and, for some time, only diver with the county. He recalled how he used his own gear that he had from his naval service.

He said, “There are no memories of a good recovery dive. When we are called out the news is not good and it is not pleasant.”

Deputies Jason Worlie and Jamie Luberts will be new “kids” on the dive team.

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