It’s a hard job, but Vigor’s reward is a slobber-covered, grass-stained tennis ball.
Atlantic Beach Police acquired its first trained narcotics canine to help the small town weed out drugs without waiting for Horry County dogs to arrive. Chief Tim Taylor got the Belgian Malinois, named Vigor, last week.
“It’s going pretty good,” Taylor said. “He’s a good dog.”
Vigor came to the department through a U.S. Customs and Border Protection program, which gives municipalities trained dogs the government cannot place or doesn’t need. Atlantic Beach didn’t pay anything for the 2-year-old dog, and is currently designing a budget for Vigor’s needs.
Vigor lives with Taylor and trains most days to keep his skills sharp. He can sniff out marijuana, crack cocaine, heroin, pills and all other narcotics – on property, in vehicles or even on people.
“You’ve got to keep working with him, or else he’ll lose the training,” Taylor said. “He’s just like everyone else.”
“It’s definitely a ‘use it or lose it’ kind of thing,” added Lt. Nick Trevathan.
Vigor is trained to sit to indicate he found drugs on a person or vehicle, and is rewarded with a tennis ball. Alerting police to drug presence is enough probable cause for police to search a vehicle, Taylor said.
The town decided to undertake a K9 unit because, until now, police had to wait for Horry County forces to show up for narcotics or tracking cases.
“The county doesn’t have K9s typically available all the time,” Trevathan said, “or if they do, we’re waiting two or three hours.
“When you’re using someone else’s resources, you’re at the whim of their needs.”
With all the attention on Atlantic Beach’s faults, including this year’s Bikefest that left three people dead after shootings along Ocean Boulevard in Myrtle Beach, Taylor is working to better the troubled town.
“I’m trying to bring the best out of Atlantic Beach – I want us to stand on our own,” Taylor said. “And Vigor is going to help with that.”
The chief “knows there’s a small drug problem in Atlantic Beach,” but said the K9 is going to take care of those problems, especially during Bikefest on Memorial Day weekend.
“There’s going to be a lot of narcotics in town that week,” Taylor said. “I know some people don’t come to Bike Week just for the bikes, and I just want to get the drugs out of here.”
Mayor Jake Evans said the K9 addition is good for the town.
“I feel like if we can accomplish anything on our own, it’s great,” Evans said. “We’ve had a lot of situations where we’ve needed a drug dog and haven’t had one.”
Evans said he has lots of plans for the town, and is “still feeling positive about the future of Atlantic Beach.”
Taylor recognizes some people may not think a drug dog is the town’s most needed asset, but said those people don’t have an insight into the needs of police in an area like Atlantic Beach. Vigor’s skills allow the department to cut off drug use and create a safe environment for locals and tourists.
“I’m looking at the future,” Taylor said. “We’re always in the spotlight for negative things, and it’s time to change that.”
The department has three full-time deputies, including Taylor, but hopes to gain three more next year. Taylor is also working on acquiring a tracking dog for the town – free of charge, of course.
“It’s all about networking,” Taylor said. “[The dog] is going to be donated and he’s going to be ready to go.”
A tracking dog would give police a head start in locating missing children or adults, Taylor said. As a father of a 5-year-old boy, Taylor never wants to put parents in a position of waiting for Horry County police to arrive with a tracking dog.
“I never want parents to think we’ve wasted 45 minutes waiting for the county, when we could have been tracking the missing [person] with our own units,” Taylor said.
Vigor’s addition is the start of a new beginning for Atlantic Beach, and Taylor has plenty of plans for the future.
“This is just the beginning,” Taylor said.