Dash Coleman/Savannah Morning News – By Dash Coleman
Savannah-Chatham police K-9 Ziggy, a gun dog, jumps up as his handler, officer Mike Drayton, holds a chew toy out as a reward for Ziggy successfully finding several .38-caliber shell casings during a training demonstration at the unit’s office April 22 on Dixie Avenue.
The 2-year-old Dutch shepherd dropped down next to the shell casing, front paws next to it, then looked up to show his handler, Savannah-Chatham police officer Mike Drayton, what a good job he’d done.
Ziggy recently became the seventh dog to join metro’s K-9 unit, and unlike the other six, his sole purpose is to find guns.
“It’ll save a lot of manpower,” said police Sgt. Eric Dukarski, head of the K-9 unit. “… You have five officers out there for an hour at nighttime looking for shell casings and may not ever find anything, but you bring the dog out there and he can find it within a matter of minutes.”
Metro’s other K-9s are used for patrol and drug detection. They search primarily for human scents.
Ziggy, on the other hand, picks up on oils, powder and residue associated with firearms. The other dogs can find a gun if a person held it recently, but human scents degrade over time.
Normally, when needing to do a specific search for a gun, metro would call the Chatham County Sheriff’s Office for assistance. That agency’s K-9 unit has explosives-detection dogs that are also trained to find guns.
Drayton, who’s been assigned to the K-9 unit for 10 years, got the idea metro should have its own gun-detection dog and began training Ziggy when he got him as a puppy.
The unit worked to get Ziggy certified and Drayton donated him to the force. The dog’s appointment was approved by Savannah City Manager Stephanie Cutter.
With Ziggy on board, Drayton now rolls with two K-9s. His other longtime police dog, Ivan, stays in a separate kennel in the patrol vehicle, and the two won’t be used together because they serve different purposes.
“It’s kind of easy to work with two dogs, because based on the call that you get, you know which dog to bring out and do whatever needs to be done,” Drayton said.
When Ziggy finds a piece of evidence, such as a shell casing, he knows to stay put and alert his handler.
“He’s taught to either sit or lie down because we just don’t want him tampering with the evidence at all,” Drayton said. “That way he’s not grabbing hold of it and bringing it back to us or anything and getting saliva on it.”
That could be crucial in helping detectives crack a case, Dukarski said.
“You never know — the shell casing we find with the dog may have a fingerprint on it, may have DNA on it,” he said.
When Drayton isn’t on duty, metro will continue to ask the sheriff’s office for assistance with gun-detection dogs.
Interim Police Chief Julie Tolbert in a news release said she is grateful to Drayton for providing Ziggy to the force.
“Finding weapons that have been hidden or tossed aside by fleeing suspects is not only important to the prosecution of the case, but can help decrease the possibility of an innocent person obtaining the gun and hurting themselves or others,” she said.