The New Albany Police Department's newest officer isn't even 2 years old, but what he lacks in experience, he makes up for in sniffing ability.

Amigo has participated in five deployments thus far and has identified small amounts of marijuana twice, according to officer Joe Rehnert, the K-9's handler.

When the department was without a police dog, New Albany needed either to use a neighboring jurisdiction's dog if one was available or to go without it, said police Chief Greg Jones.

Now the department is able to use Amigo for drug detection and tracking, Jones said.

Amigo isn't an apprehension dog, meaning that he will participate in noncriminal tracking, such as searching for a lost person with Alzheimer's disease or a child with Down syndrome, but he will not attack, he said.

Amigo also can search an area to locate evidence that has been dropped or thrown away, Rehnert said.

A German short-haired pointer, Amigo is the department's first police dog since its previous program ended in 2012, after the department's second K-9, Fanto, bit someone who had approached a police vehicle, Jones said.

Bungee, the department's first police dog, had died in 2011 after accidentally jumping out of a police vehicle into traffic when a door malfunctioned.

Though police leaders wanted to bring back the K-9 unit, low staffing levels prevented the attention the project required, Jones said. The department currently has the chief, three sergeants and 21 officers, which includes three at police academies, according to city spokesman Scott McAfee.

But recently, New Albany-Plain Local School District Superintendent Michael Sawyers reached out to the department about bringing back the K-9 unit, Jones said.

The city paid $11,000 for Amigo and his training, but the district reimbursed $10,000 of that fee.

The city still has to pay for a K-9 cruiser, food, veterinary bills and ongoing training for Rehnert and Amigo, Jones said.

The school district secured $10,000 from the Educational Service Center of Central Ohio to help obtain the new K-9, Sawyers said.

Because the city funds a school resource officer and a DARE officer on the school campus, district leaders are proud to support this new initiative for the community, he said.

"The New Albany Police Department K-9 officer will provide a valuable supplement to existing security and safety mechanisms in the schools and in our community," Sawyers said.

The police department works with the school district to conduct periodic drug sweeps through buildings and parking lots, Jones said, and when New Albany didn't have a police dog, it relied on the assistance of other jurisdictions to carry that out. With Amigo, the drug sweeps can be done more often, he said.

After looking for police-dog providers, Jones said, the department chose Shallow Creek Kennels in Sharpsville, Pennsylvania, and the kennel provided Amigo and a four-week training program.

Amigo was bred in Hungary, Jones said.

The kennel suggested the department choose a pointer because of the breed's excellent nose, work ethic and energy, he said.

Jones said he chose Rehnert to be Amigo's handler after interviewing Rehnert and a number of other officers who applied for the role.

"Joe has always demonstrated a great work ethic, a dedication to excellence, and the quality of his work is second to none," Jones said.

Rehnert, who has been an officer in New Albany for 12 years, said he grew up with dogs and always wanted to be a police officer and work with a K-9 unit.

Amigo's abilities greatly surpass those of a human, Rehnert said.

If someone is missing, the dog could follow ground-disturbance odor for miles, he said.

The dog is capable of finding missing people, as well as narcotics, Rehnert said.

"It can't save the entire world, but it could change the entire world for one family," he said.

ssole@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekSarah