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Buster (copy)

Buster, a Belgian Malinois breed, is the Gage County Sheriff’s Office K-9 unit. The K-9 program may be ending at the department.

The Gage County Board of Supervisors may be reconsidering its decision to allow a former deputy to purchase the K-9 unit he worked with while at the sheriff’s office.

On June 5, the board voted to allow Deputy Coltin Bebensee to purchase Buster, a 4-year-old Belgian Malinois following an announcement that Bebensee was leaving the department to take a job in Washington County. The pair worked together for around three years, and Bebensee was Buster’s only handler.

The board decided to offer the dog to Bebensee at a cost of $250 after more than an hour of discussion at the last board meeting.

The County Board’s next meeting is on Wednesday, and the agenda features an item to “approve or disapprove rescinding board action taken on June 5, 2019 regarding the drug dog.”

Gage County Attorney Roger Harris described the item as a matter of thoroughness.

“The board basically received some additional information they want to review and that’s what they’re going to do,” he said. “…If they had this information at the last meeting, obviously everyone would have been more comfortable.”

Harris declined to say what new information the board is considering, only saying it could be “a very interesting portion of the meeting.”

Bebensee’s last day with the sheriff’s office was Tuesday, June 11, and Harris said a bill of sale had not been completed.

Bebensee reached out to the Daily Sun after learning the County Board was going to discuss Buster again, and said the money to purchase Buster was anonymously donated shortly after the county's previous decision, and that Buster was with him. 

Much of the County Board’s previous discussions have been debates if Buster should be treated as property or a deputy, a piece of surplus or a retiring county worker.

Bebensee said at a previous meeting the dog is dependent on him, and told the board Buster won’t work with anyone else. This raised a debate among board members if the dog has remaining value to the department under a different handler, or if attempting to retrain the dog would be a wasted effort.

Dogs can be retired if they’re no longer able to perform their duties or service. Bebensee pointed out that if the two are separated and Buster won’t work with another deputy, it would justify retirement.

Gage County was able to add the K-9 unit thanks to around $10,000 in donations, and Gage County has invested more than $70,000 in equipment and training.

Gage County Sheriff Millard “Gus” Gustafson has said the department doesn’t currently have a deputy interested in working as a K-9 handler and that he’s already removed all costs associated with the program from his planned budget for the next fiscal year.

The board’s Wednesday meeting is at 8:45 a.m. on the second floor of the courthouse.

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