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'Lars' canine deputy now partnered with Columbia County Sheriff's Deputy Cody Pesio

Cody Pesio is still getting used to the energy of his new partner.

Pesio, a deputy with the Columbia County Sheriff's Office, was tapped to be the newest canine handler for the agency. He'll now work alongside "Lars," a Belgian Malinois who is one of two trained sheriff's dogs in the county.SPOTLIGHT PHOTO: COURTNEY VAUGHN - Columbia County Sheriff's deputy Cody Pesio poses with Lars a Sheriff canine deputy.

As Pesio and his partner stop at a Rainier park on a drizzly Friday afternoon, Lars springs onto the grass.

He doesn't venture far before Pesio calls the dog back to his side with commands in German.

They're a fairly new team, and still ironing out the kinks, Pesio says, but it's a partnership the deputy is eager to take on.

"Prior to starting my law enforcement career, I volunteered at a 'working dog' kennel," Pesio recalls. "After watching firsthand what a working dog is capable of, given proper training, amazed me."

Pesio, who grew up in Clatskanie and worked for Vernonia Police Department before joining the Sheriff's Office, says he also spent several years volunteering as a decoy for the Clatskanie Police Department, before taking on the K9 handler role.

When he's at work, Lars appears menacing and fiercely obedient to follow commands. Given permission, or a friendly hand, he's affectionate and doesn't shy away from being pet or pressing his body close for a cuddle.

Pesio says Lars is even gentle with his 16-month-old child.

The real test will come over the next 10 weeks, as Pesio and Lars complete a training academy together, with the goal of becoming certified.

If all goes well, Lars will be back to tracking suspects and stopping criminals.

Lars is no stranger to police work. He was previously assigned to Deputy Ryan Dews, who remains on administrative leave with the Sheriff's Office. In his absence, Lars was eventually reassigned to a new handler.

"We held an application process and Deputy Pesio was selected out of the applicants that applied," Lt. Brian Pixley stated via email. During a prior meeting with Columbia County commissioners, Pixley said Lars was eager to get back to work.

"He's not even missing a beat," Pixley told commissioners. "He's a smart dog. He just wants to go out and play and do his job."

Pixley noted CCSO now has two working dogs again, with the return of Lars and the addition of Odin to the agency earlier this year.

Lars has already gained attention for helping sheriff's deputies track down fleeing suspects and for his role in siccing a uncooperative jail inmate on command in 2017 — an incident that became controversial and led to a grand jury review of the Sheriff's Office's use of canines within the jail, among other things.

Lars' return means he will be available for use by the Sheriff's Office, or other law enforcement agencies if there is a request for outside assistance.

"I am very excited to continue the K9 program with the Columbia County Sheriff's Office," Pesio notes. "Lars was a great success and asset to the CCSO team and community."

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