BONNERS FERRY — Boundary County Sheriff’s Deputy Michael Valenzuela joined the Sheriff’s Office in October 2018. Valenzuela previously spent almost 10 years with the Sandpoint Police Department where he wore many hats, including being a K-9 handler.
“What is funny is that I never thought about a career in law enforcement,” said Valenzuela. “My English teacher actually suggested doing law enforcement for my community hours. I could do a couple of ride-alongs and write a paper about it.”
Influenced by his best friend’s father, a sergeant at the time with the Coeur d’Alene Police Department, and his School Resource Officer, he began to consider law enforcement as a career.
“I didn’t get into it right away, though,” said Valenzuela. “I went to a college in Oregon for baseball. I started the program there and didn’t like the way things were.”
After two years there, Valenzuela came back and started the academy at North Idaho College. He then became a reserve police officer for Sandpoint, and was hired on after about three months when a full time position opened up.
“It was kind of a Cinderella story,” said Valenzuela. “I’d already gone through the academy and I cleared their training program. So it worked out well and I got hired immediately.”
One of Valenzuela’s career goals was to be a K-9 handler. His first attempt to reach that position failed, but the second one, in 2012, met with success.
“I was fortunate enough to get the K-9, Harley, a black Lab/border collie mix,” said Valenzuela. “His old handler left our department, and they decided to keep the dog and keep him running.”
The partnership seemed a perfect fit, as Valenzuela and Harley were already familiar with each other. The K-9 team completed their training with the Idaho P.O.S.T. K-9 Handlers in May of 2012.
“He was a single purpose dog, which meant he only did narcotics,” explained Valenzuela.
But narcotics was not Harley’s only strength.
“He is great with kids,” explained Valenzuela. “So it kind of forced me to become better with public speaking, and with large groups, because we did a lot of demos and things like that with him.”
After working together as a team for seven years, Harley retired in September 2018. Harley had served for just over 10 years total with the Sandpoint Police Department.
“He’s 12 years old now,” said Valenzuela. “He’s a good dog. I think the highlight of my career is having a K-9.”
Harley enjoys his retirement at home with Valenzuela, spending his days lounging on the couch, and sharing the bed with him at night.
“He’s very, very spoiled,” said Valenzuela with a laugh.
After Harley’s retirement, Valenzuela realized that he probably would not receive another K-9 due to his supervisor role. The department felt that the handler position was better suited for someone who had more time to dedicate to the training of the K-9.
“With the supervisor role I wear many hats,” said Valenzuela. “I’m a drug recognition expert and I was very, very involved with a field training officer program and would train new guys coming in. Prior to that I was running a reserve program as well.”
Although Valenzuela understood that he was needed in the departments that he was working in, he was willing to pass up promotions in order to work as a K-9 handler again.
When a position opened up at the Boundary County Sheriff’s Office, Valenzuela made the decision to make the move as a change of pace. He wanted to work in the county rather than the city. Another motivating factor was a discussion that he had with Boundary County Sheriff Dave Kramer.
“In talking to Kramer there was potential for another dog coming up soon. That was a big motivating factor,” explained Valenzuela. “Running a dog — you build a special bond with that dog. It becomes family. You are with them every day off duty, every day on duty at work.”
“I really enjoy the K-9 program,” he said. “The canine world is my comfort zone. Hopefully we can get the K-9 program up here.”
Valenzuela explained that the K-9 team is valuable, not only for narcotics detection, but also for introducing people to a different side of law enforcement, especially young children.
“My dog is the friendliest dog in the world,” he said. “I take him into daycares and elementary schools and let the kids play with him. They tug on his ears, pull on his tail, and just love up on him — and he loved every moment of it.”
For Valenzuela, working with a K-9 partner is in his wheelhouse.
“If we can get another K-9, that is my goal, to get back into doing a lot of community stuff with the dog,” said Valenzuela. “At the fair we did a demo, just showing how the dogs work. I am hoping to get that going again.”
Until that happens, Valenzuela is bringing his passion and expertise to the Boundary County Sheriff’s Office.
“He is an experienced Peace Officer that is dedicated and proactive; it is great having him on the Sheriff’s Office,” said Kramer. “He is an asset to our community.”
“I don’t know it all, I don’t claim to know it all,” said Valenzuela. “I’m always learning. What I like about this job is you never know what you’re walking in to everyday. I might not have a single call today or a might have 50 calls involving some of the most heinous crimes — or just a barking dog. I really like that aspect of it.”
Having grown up in sports his whole life, Valenzuela enjoys the camaraderie and the team function of being part of law enforcement.
“I became a coach after I played college baseball so that is why I like training,” explained Valenzuela. “It is something I appreciate — to watch someone come from zero experience, to academy, to the first day on the road not knowing how to talk on the radio or how to apply certain things, to them completing an investigation — all the way through.”
Valenzuela trained a majority of the law enforcement at the Sandpoint Police Department and enjoys watching them move up through the department, with some now making detective.
When not on the job, Valenzuela likes sports, and to go shooting, hunting, and fishing. He spent years coaching baseball in Sandpoint and Coeur d’Alene.
“I really got into barbecuing and smoking so that is kind of what I have been doing the last couple of years,” said Valenzuela. “It has been a very fun world for me to start diving into.”
“I’m originally from San Bernardino, California,” he said. “I have zero desire to go back there.”
From there he moved to New Mexico for several years and then went to Coeur d’Alene, graduating from high school there.
Valenzuela describes himself as a “pretty mellow guy.”
“I grew up in small towns my whole life, in small communities, so this is very comfortable for me,” he explained. “I not much of a big city guy.”
Although he still lives in Sandpoint, Valenzuela is enjoying his time working in Boundary County and is quickly fitting into the community. At some point in the future, he hopes to be seen around the county with a new K-9 partner, enjoying the beauty of the area, and keeping its citizens safe.