The Grove City Division of Police hopes its newest officer will help battle local drug abuse, particularly heroin.

The Grove City Division of Police hopes its newest officer will help battle local drug abuse, particularly heroin.

Max, a 2-year-old Belgian Malinois police dog, was introduced officially to the public at the Grove City Council meeting Sept. 21.

Max and his handler, Officer Brian Kitko, comprise the city's new K-9 unit, and both are certified through the Ohio Peace Officer Training Commission.

"Max has gotten close to two years of training," Kitko said. "He is highly trained and highly capable."

Interim Chief Jeff Pearson said Max is a dual-purpose dog who can detect narcotics as well track evidence and people.

"It'll help us address some of the drug issues, especially heroin," Pearson said. "It creates a deterrent."

As a tracking dog, Max can track evidence in addition to missing people and at-large suspects. Max and Kitko also may be deployed in the event of a natural disaster, to locate missing victims.

Right now, Max is about 57 pounds and expected to grow to about 75 pounds. His active service life is anticipated to be between six and eight years. When he's not on duty, Max lives with Kitko

The training wasn't just for Max.

"When I went to the six-week basic course, it was pretty intense," Kitko said. "(It was) me just learning what his capabilities were."

Kitko said he also needed to be interviewed by a panel before being selected for the K-9 unit, because there are more than physical requirements.

"A lot of it is trying to find the right fit," Kitko said. "It kind of makes it a match, personality wise."

So far, Kitko said he and Max have been a good fit.

While Max is highly trained and well-behaved, Pearson said people need to remember he is a working dog trained for a specific job and tasks.

"A working dog is totally different," Pearson said. "This dog has a purpose, and he is trained to work."

There are safety guidelines for the public when encountering Max. He is not to be petted or teased, and individuals should not get between Kitko and Max. The police department advises the public to maintain a distance of 6 feet away from Max, unless Kitko allows otherwise.

"He is not a pet," Kitko said.