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.

After months of doubt and debate, Gage County’s K-9 program seems likely to continue.

During a brief budget discussion Wednesday, Sheriff Millard “Gus” Gustafson said his proposal for the coming fiscal year includes funds to keep the K-9 program alive, despite earlier predictions that it would come to an end.

“I’m proceeding like we’re going to do it again,” he said. “They haven’t officially approved the budget, but if they do, then yes.”

The fate of the program has been in doubt since the deputy K-9 handler announced he was leaving the department, prompting lengthy debate regarding the future of Buster, a Belgian Malinois.

Early debates focused on the dog’s value and ability to perform under a different handler.

Buster was evaluated last month in Omaha, and Gustafson estimated the dog has as many as four years of service life left. It was also predicted Buster can be trained to work effectively with a different handler.

“They were as impressed as I was,” Gustafson said of the evaluation. “Buster really did a good job. They rate him at or above average. That gave me a lot of hope.”

The next hurdle was finding a deputy willing to work with the K-9. Gustafson initially said there wasn’t much interest from current deputies, but after more conversations deputy Dax Brydl agreed to lead the program.

Gustafson said Brydl starts training soon to work with Buster. The program usually requires a $10,000 budget each year, though Gustafson said the proposed budget for the program this year is $30,000 to account for the needed training.

“I’m going to push real hard for some sort of a fundraiser to offset some of the tax dollars in there moving forward,” Gustafson said. “It’s an expensive program to have but it’s a good one. If you train the dog, stay with it and keep it going, it’s good to have.”

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