Goodhue County deputy's persistence pays off as K9 handler
RED WING — Matt Bowron has wanted to be a K9 handler ever since he watched a demonstration as a youngster at Ben Franklin Elementary School three decades ago.
After nearly six years of annoying his superior officers about it, an unlikely funding source finally made that dream come true.
In Nov. 2012, the Goodhue County Sheriff's Office patrol deputy stumbled upon a Facebook post by Texas-based K9s for Cops offering grants to police officers seeking new canine units. After receiving permission to apply from Chief Deputy Lyle Lorenson, a frantic scramble ensued to beat the application deadline.
When an overly ambitious intern inadvertently posted the grant recipients on Facebook in January 2013, it sparked a celebration within the local sheriff's department: Bowron was finally getting his patrol companion, Ambush, and his co-workers no longer had to listen to him bark about it.
"When I was a kid, one of the Rochester cops brought their dogs into the elementary school, and I just thought it was the coolest thing," Bowron said. "When I got hired by the county (in 2008), I told them I wanted a dog, and I would be annoying about it.
"I got an award for something else (this year), and Lyle said, 'Now you can finally stop whining about having a dog' as he shook my hand."
Good-natured banter aside, Ambush has proven a win-win for the department.
The grant of about $15,000 came at a time when the county was looking to carve hundreds of thousands of dollars from its budget. It's uncertain whether the county board would have otherwise funded a new canine unit when Chopper was retired on Dec. 31 after nearly a decade of service.
Thanks to Bowron's opportune find, the county has been able to maintain almost 24-hour coverage with its three canine units: Ambush, Havoc and Ransom.
"Canines are really invaluable," Goodhue County Sheriff Scott McNurlin said. "They can do things that we as human beings really aren't capable of.
"They really save officers lives. Their senses are keener than ours," McNurlin said. "Their ability to go into a building and clear it is really more efficient than what five deputies could do. For their cost, they'd be a hard thing to replace."
While Bowron and Ambush are still getting acquainted with the community through demonstration visits, Chopper is transitioning into the family pet of Goodhue County investigator Colin Boxland, his long-time handler.
"It feels like I'm forgetting something," Boxland said of going to work without Chopper.
McNurlin added: "It's kind of like losing your partner."
Chopper isn't allowed inside to play with Boxland's other dogs. "He's like a bull in a china shop, Boxland said.
Bowron has noticed similar tendencies from the dog he affectionately calls "the furry idiot in my back seat."
Ambush was selected from the Vohne Liche Kennels in Indiana featured on the popular reality show "Alpha Dogs." He displays extremely protective tendencies. However, Ambush has also been wildly popular among local citizens, and will soon be added to the trading cards dispersed by McNurlin's deputies.
"He's met more people in his career on the road than I have at this point," Bowron said. "People just come out of the woodwork to meet him. It's awesome."