A new K-9 is coming to town

Isanti County Deputy Sheriff John Gillquist (right) will begin training in September to be a second K-9 handler for Isanti County. Isanti County Sheriff Chris Caulk (left) was the first K-9 handler for Isanti County and served with the late K-9 Nike from 2003 to 2010.
Photo by Rachel Kytonen
A second K-9 is being added to the Isanti County Sheriff’s Office to provide 24-hour K-9 patrol for Isanti County.
Isanti County Deputy Sheriff John Gillquist will begin training in September to become the second K-9 handler within the sheriff’s department, with a goal of starting on patrol in mid-December or early January.
Currently, Isanti County Deputy Sheriff Jonathan Vander Vegt and his K-9 partner Kojak are the sole K-9 team for Isanti County and work 12-hour shifts.
Gillquist, a 2004 graduate of Cambridge-Isanti High School, has been with the department for four years and in law enforcement since 2010. He earned his law enforcement degree from the Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Education Center through North Hennepin Technical College.
Gillquist became interested in law enforcement after taking an aptitude test in high school.
“I’ve always wanted to work in Isanti County,” Gillquist said. “I grew up here and I’m excited to continue to keep this community safe and continue to be there for people and help keep people safe.”
Isanti County Sheriff Chris Caulk said it was a joint decision at the administrative level to add a second K-9 handler.
“We talked about how much work this is for one person to do and we really do have enough work for two dogs,” Caulk said. “This K-9 program is really a resource we need every day and having a dog on 50 percent of the time really is not enough. Our K-9 program is a tool we can use against an individual that is a non-lethal tool.”
Gillquist is looking forward to the challenges and new experiences that come with being a K-9 handler.
“I’m super excited,” Gillquist said. “It’ll be a lot of fun and a lot of work, but it’s something I’m interested in and I’ll be doing a little more than the normal.”
When on patrol, Gillquist will work from 4 p.m. to 4 a.m. with Vander Vegt working the opposite shift, providing 24-hour K-9 coverage for Isanti County. Gillquist is looking forward to giving back to the community he grew up in.
“I like being here for the people and providing police protection for the teachers and business owners I grew up with,” Gillquist said. “This position gives me great satisfaction.”
When Caulk reached out to his staff about interest in a second K-9 handler, Gillquist submitted a letter of interest.
“I was Deputy Vander Vegt’s partner on the night shift with him about a year and half ago,” Gillquist said. “I was out there with him and Kojak and working actively with him to find the drugs or people. During the down times, Deputy Vander Vegt would train with Kojak at night and I would assist them by hiding in the woods or doing whatever I could to help with the training.”
Gillquist and his K-9, who will arrive from the Czech Republic this week, will spend three months of full-time training together before beginning patrol.
“I’m looking forward to getting the dog and training with it and getting it out in the community,” Gillquist said. “I think it would be fun for the community to see the K-9 at different community events once we get up and running.”
Caulk also noted that when it’s time for Kojak to retire, the county will not have a lapse in K-9 protection, since Gillquist’s K-9 will be up and running.
“We have had great community support since we started our K-9 program in 2003,” Caulk said. “Everything with our K-9 program, other than staff time, is covered by donations. Our K-9 program is really paid for and owned by the citizens of this county, and I really appreciate it. We thank our businesses, organizations and individuals for all their in-kind donations or monetary donations they give to support this program.”
Caulk was Isanti County’s first K-9 handler who worked with the late K-9 Nike from 2003 to 2010.
“John has been a consistent hard worker, and it’s nice that his family supports this because this dog really does become part of your family,” Caulk said. “Hard work and dedication really plays a key role in the success of a K-9 handler’s career. You really get the dog you deserve. If you don’t put the work into it and the time into it that it needs, it really won’t work out. Being a K-9 handler is hard work and it’s a commitment, but it’s also very rewarding.”
Caulk said being a K-9 handler puts you in a very special family.
“There are less than 400 K-9 teams in the state and you really become a family with the other K-9 officers,” Caulk said. “I really hope John has the opportunity to take his wife and his children to the annual K-9 trials because it really is a family event.”