BILLINGS - Many schools are beefing up security following the recent school shooting in Uvalde, Texas.
For law enforcement K-9 handlers, the dog is their partner on the job and their friend. And in a setting like a school, a dog is often able to do many things that a deputy simply cannot.
Musselshell County Sheriff's Deputy Travis Manning is still getting to know his new canine partner Akai, "he will be two years old in October."
This is after he was forced to say goodbye to his old partner of two years, Rico, due to a change in Montana law. "He's my best friend my partner he was with me 24/7," Manning said about Rico. "It was not easy."
With the legalization of recreational marijuana, police dogs which are often used to sniff out drugs had to know how to separate pot from other narcotics, something Rico, and most other dogs in Montana were never trained to do.
"We just need to make sure that the dogs are not even alerting on marijuana," Manning said. "It's a legal substance at this point. And we can't have dogs that are even showing interest in it. So they need to look at it like any other substance, not an illegal one."
And that's what brought Akai to Montana. Deputy Manning is one of only a handful of certified trainers in Montana. He flew to Shallow Creek Kennels in Pennsylvania to train the pup and bring him here to round up. Not all dogs are trained for narcotics. Some specialize in search and rescues, while others are trained to find bodies or bombs.
They are also trained to bring down a suspect, although in a school shooter scenario, Billings police tell MTN News dogs would primarily be used to find a suspect hiding inside the building.
Manning said the K-9 is a non-lethal tool and the Sheriff's Office would not be deploy its dog to a school shooter situation. Regardless, these dogs could save lives and are helping law enforcement, according to Manning.
"The whole goal here was to help other law enforcement agencies, whether they be state or local, to help their K-9 programs," Manning said. "Whether they be working on something that they're having a hard time with, or, you know, help them get even better.
As for Rico, Manning may have had to say goodbye to his friend, but his former partner is still hard at work, now in Kansas, where marijuana remains illegal.
"It's awesome," Manning said. "I gave him to a handler and a trainer that went through the same course I did. So I put Rico in the best situation I could have. He's still working."