Deputies Rye and Sherman show the value of a K9 team at OCSD
Ozark County Sheriff’s K9 Rye and her handler, Deputy Josh Sherman, are quite the duo within the sheriff’s department, aiding in searches for drugs, missing people, paraphernalia and other potential evidence that proves beneficial to investigations.
The pair also serve as approachable ambassadors for the Ozark County Sheriff’s Department, visiting often with school children and local community members.
Rye’s history with the OCSD
Rye was purchased by the OCSD in early 2020 with a donation from the Harlin family and Century Bank of the Ozarks after a Lions Club discussion with then Sheriff Darrin Reed prompted the idea to use a canine deputy here.
The original donation covered the cost of purchasing the German Shepherd from TorchLightK9 in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and the dog’s initial training at the company’s headquarters with her first handler, then Deputy Vesa Phelan. The donation also provided funds to outfit an Ozark County Sheriff’s Department vehicle with the necessary equipment to properly accommodate the canine officer.
Phelan resigned from the department in September 2020 after Reed announced his plans to retire later that year, and Deputy Justin Brown was hired by the department to replace him and serve as her handler. Brown had experience working with a K9 before in his position at the West Plains Police Department. He also had worked closely with newly elected Sheriff Cass Martin, as Brown had been employed with the WPPD at the time Martin was serving as an investigator for the Howell County prosecutor’s office.
In July 2021, Brown transitioned to a different position within the OCSD, and Deputy Alan Daffron was hired to take his place and serve as Rye’s handler. Rye and Daffron attended another training and were certified, and Daffron served in that role for about a year until this August 2022 when the Ozark County Sheriff’s Department was forced to lay off seven employees due to a budget crisis. Both Brown and Daffron were part of the group that were let go.
From that time until now, the OCSD has operated on a skeleton crew with five officers, including Sherman who joined the department as a jailer and was then promoted to jail administrator before graduating from the sheriff’s academy and being hired as a deputy in July.
From a career in soccer to law enforcement
In 2019-20, just as the Ozark County Sheriff’s Department was finalizing details on obtaining Rye, Sherman’s life led him to the Ozarks.
“I was born and raised in Ohio. My prior job was in the soccer world,” he told the Times recently. “I was the program director for all of Ohio’s youth soccer association. That job took me to Michigan, where I did the same thing over about 90,000 kids… In that position, I took care of the sponsorship and marketing, and at the time I was also taking care of a league program called Olympic Development Program - ODP. It’s for the players that are seen and get funneled into the men’s national team, the women’s national team and progress, hopefully, to be part of the world cups.”
In 2019, Sherman moved to West Plains. He was hired by the Boys and Girls Club and worked there for a period of time before he decided to enroll in the Missouri Sheriff’s Academy.
What drew him to the career choice? Sherman says it was his work within the soccer industry that led him to his ambitions to become a law enforcement officer.
“In addition to the administrative side of what I was doing in my job with the soccer world, I was also a professional referee. A lot of that world revolves around policing. You have to police the soccer field, basically, and by default, there are a lot of law enforcement officials in that world. So I started to fall into that path, and it really kind of sang to me. So, inevitably, I knew I was going to go that route,” he explained.
Joining the OCSD
Sherman was hired by the Ozark County Sheriff’s Department as a jailer while he was enrolled in the academy, and he served in the position booking in prisoners, taking mug shots, helping feed meals at the jail and performing other jail duties.
During his tenure, he was promoted to jail administrator, where he instead focused his work with being the liaison between the jail, the judges and the judges’ clerks at the courthouse.
Sherman graduated from the 11-month sheriff’s academy in June and was hired as the Ozark County Sheriff’s Department’s newest deputy at that time.
However, his graduation came at a turbulent time within the department as it had hit a critical budget crisis with record fuel and other rising costs putting a real strain on the department. Two weeks after Sherman was hired into the deputy position, Sheriff Cass Martin announced that he was forced to lay off seven employees due to funding, including Daffron, Rye’s K9 handler.
Sherman remained on staff as a deputy, but with a skeleton crew, everyone was spread thin at the department. He knew he was willing to do whatever needed to be done to fill the gaps.
“When we lost Alan, we lost our canine handler capabilities,” Sherman said, explaining that by law the department has to have a certified handler on staff to utilize a K9 officer. “He would still come out, but he was not [employed] full-time. So we were able to utilize Rye at that time but not at a full-time capacity, which wasn’t ideal for the department, for Rye or for [Daffron],” Sherman said.
Challenging times bring forth a new role
During that time Sherman’s workload reverted to include jailer duties again to cover the jailers who had been laid off.
“At that time, everybody had to step up. We were all assuming more responsibility. After awhile I told Cass I had the jail duties under control because I had trained another jailer to take on those responsibilities. So I told him that I was willing to do more. What that meant, I didn’t know,” he said. “I just threw it out there to let him know I was willing to do whatever he needed me to.
“Then all of the sudden, Cass comes to me and says ‘You have a dog now.’ I said, ‘Say that again,’ That’s when he told me, ‘We need you to take over Rye and the K9 handler duties.’”
So, on Aug. 16, 2022, just as Sherman was signing closing papers on his house in Gainesville, Cass transferred Rye to him and former Deputy Daffron arranged to transfer the K9’s gear over to him. “It was a busy day,” he said.
Sherman and Rye moved into their new home, and Sherman began planning out the next steps in his new role.
“I knew we needed to have the [K9] handler certified to be able to utilize her for anything that would be considered an arrestable offense,” Sherman said. “Through the canine handler network we have locally, I was able to do some things to keep Rye active and kind of kick the dust off of her, so-to speak.”
The cost for Sherman and Rye to attend a K9 certification was not something that the sheriff’s department could afford while in the budget crisis; however, Deputy Seth Miller stepped up and wrote a grant proposal to the Ozark County Community Foundation requesting funds to cover the cost of the certification and training. The organization granted the sheriff’s department $3,500 for the proposal.
The certification training at F.M. K9
“I had Rye living with me from August until basically November before we went to the training. We kind of got to know each other in that time. So, the bonding aspect was out of the way by the time Seth obtained the grant for us,” Sherman said.
On Oct. 31, Sherman and Rye arrived at F.M. K9 facility in Barrien Center, Michigan, and they remained there for the next month.
“For the 27 days of the training, it was basically wash, rinse, repeat on obedience, narcotic detection training and evolutions… whether that meant going inside a building, going through a locker or going through vehicles, it was continued work on whatever the flavor-of-the-day was,” he said.
The group finished out each 8-hour training day with directives for that night’s homework, which would include taking the dogs to grocery stores or other populated places in the area and walking them around, getting them used to distractions, noise and people, all of which are commonplace with public areas K9s will need to operate in.
“I call it the canine academy. I went to the sheriff’s academy, and she went to basically the equivalent of that. So, it’s the canine academy. All in all, the whole certification was 240 academy course hours. We also had a whole host of classroom education: quizzes every week, a midterm and final written exam that we had to pass with a score of 80 percent or higher. It included case law that we were tested on that was specific to canines,” Sherman said.
Sherman and Rye had an advantage over the other officers and K9s, he said, due to Rye’s age (she’s 6 now) and her prior training.
“She had gone through the trainings before, and the dogs start to hone in their skills a little bit as they get older. For example, when she goes to track, and she’s very excellent at tracking, it’s not the typical nose-to-the-ground, following heel-to-toe where that person walked. As she’s a little older than the other dogs now, she knows how to work smarter, not harder. So she’ll fringe track, which means she’ll basically cut the track in half, and she’ll still get the same result. That way she doesn’t have to exhaust herself,” he said.
Sherman said all of the other officers participating in the training met their dogs the day they began the academy. He had already lived with Rye for two and half months before the training, and she had already participated in certification training multiple times.
“So the instructors were basically giving the other guys directives to tell their dog to do one thing or another, trying to get the handler and dog both up to par on the basics. For me, they were saying ‘Hey, she’ll tell you what to do. She knows what to do. You need to look to her, watch her and trust her. That was difficult at first because she had very different behaviors, tells and indicators that I hadn’t yet learned. So I had to watch those and build trust for her and for those signs.
“She’s very good at what she does. The instructors knew that. Actually the owner of the company that certified her had certified her previously, so he knew what her capabilities were, even on tracking purposes. He knew how to push the limits on her, so we could, right out of the gate, start at a level of difficulty we wanted to,” he said.
Beginning work as a team
Sherman returned to Ozark County on Thanksgiving, and he and Rye began their shift the next day. They’ve been going wide-open ever since.
“She goes through at least 30 minutes a day of training with me six days a week, and she has one day off just to be a dog. The first month that she was back, we deployed her 15 times,” he said.
Sherman says that Rye is on duty during his full-time work schedule, and the pair are also called out by other officers on their days off when the K9 services are needed.
“On a typical day when she’s on patrol with me, if we have a vehicle stopped, there are suspicious circumstances and they fail to give us consent to search, then we’ll utilize the dog. If she gives me the correct indicators, which includes a few different body languages or a final sit or lay down, then we have measures to get into the vehicle and find out why she’s giving me an alert to an illegal narcotic,” Sherman said.
He says that his fellow officers work well with them and try to plan out times that Rye may be needed on their days off.
“We have certain parameters that are established. That way we don’t say, ‘Oh, I have a vehicle stopped, let’s run the dog,’ and it’s 2 o’clock in the morning,” he said. “We try to plan it as best we can so if there’s a certain vehicle that we might have an idea of something going on with, they can tell me, ‘Hey, we’re going to be on lookout tonight.’ But it’s honestly few and far between. I don’t mind being called out though. It’s all for the betterment of the community, and I understand the call-out needs.”
Sherman assures the public that during usual traffic stops and other basic times, Rye is not needed and won’t be deployed.
“Typically, if I see someone pulled over, and I just happen to be traveling through, I don’t extend that traffic stop anymore than is reasonable. I’ll run Rye around the vehicle, and if there is a negative indication, I just log it as deployment and away we go,” he explained. “It’s not like every vehicle is going to get Rye ran around it. If you’re just going to work and you just happen to be going an excessive amount over the speed limit, that’s one story. We’re probably not going to need her. If you’re acting a little suspicious, maybe you’re not able to articulate a good time frame of where you’ve been and why you’re acting a little different, now that’s a different story. Rye is probably going to come out to that vehicle stop.”
Missing persons and article search
In addition to narcotic detection, Rye has also been utilized with Sherman leading her on missing persons cases.
“For something like a 90-year-old woman who has walked off and has gotten lost because she can’t remember which house is hers, we’ll utilize her in those instances,” he said. “Recently we had an individual who walked off from the home, and we couldn’t find them for the better part of 18 and a half hours. So we ended up utilizing Rye to track to the point where the person ended up getting picked up by a vehicle, and then we lost the track from there. But we used Rye to track human odors the best that we can,” he said.
In addition to tracking for human scent, Rye also has the ability for an article search for items that a person may throw off of them.
“So if I put her on scene, I can give her that command to search for a cell phone, a wallet, a set of keys or maybe shell casings that have been dropped, and she can use those to collect evidence,” he said.
Rye is certified as single purpose, which includes tracking for narcotic detection, human scent tracking and article search. Dual-purpose dogs include bite-trained canines, which Rye is not.
Opening a dialogue with the public
Sherman and Rye also enjoy their time visiting with community members and young people in Ozark County.
“So far we’ve been in every school in Ozark County except for Thornfield. We specifically go to the higher side of middle school and to high schools for prevention. We’ve also been to Gainesville [Elementary] during Red Ribbon Week. We did a short little presentation for one of their assemblies and came back that afternoon and visited with pre-K,” he said. “I try to get her out as often as we can. She is a good asset and resource for the department. Almost everyone loves a dog and is able to approach her. So having Rye helps start a discussion between our department and general public that might not happen if she wasn’t here.”
Sherman said he and Rye have chatted with people during Hootin an Hollarin, the Christmas parade and during the period of time when the sheriff’s department was advocating for the passage of a half-cent tax increase.
“I personally feel like maybe those conversations wouldn’t have happened if I didn’t have her with me.”
Sherman also says he saw another potential benefit of Rye through his work with children at the boys and girls club, that children who are having trouble at home or somewhere else, may feel more at ease around a friendly dog.
“So sometimes it allows them to open up and have a conversation about what’s going on. Fortunately we haven’t had an incident like that here, but if we do, I’m happy to have her there. She’s just a real asset on a multitude of different levels.”
Keep up with Rye and Deputy Sherman
The K9 program at the OCSD is operated on a completely donation based system; the OCSD assures the Times that current donations fully fund Rye’s food, veterinarian care and anything else she might need. In the case that it doesn’t, she will still be provided for, Sherman said.
To make a financial donation or a donation of dog food, toys or other items, contact Sherman at the OCSD, 417-679-4633.
Residents can also keep up with Deputy Sherman and K9 Rye on social media through "K9 Rye” Facebook and Tik Tok pages where the pair share short videos, photos and updates about the sheriff’s department and other law enforcement news.