The four-year-old dog was donated to the sheriff's office recently by the Arkansas Department of Corrections. Max had been in the K-9 unit at the East Arkansas Regional Unit at Brickeys about a year before he was brought to Sharp County.
"He wasn't up to speed with their dogs," Mitchell said.
Max isn't like most dogs. He is extremely frightened of humans. Mitchell thinks Max was abused by one of his former handlers years ago. Brickey's received Max from the prison in Pine Bluff but no other information is known about Max.
Because of Max's phobia of people it was important that he be assigned to a dog lover.
Mitchell, a native of Strawberry, said he has always had a dog of some type. Mitchell was in the Army for eight years before he began work with the county. Although he enjoyed his work as a military police officer, he had decided if he were to re-enlist he would train to become a dog handler. Instead of re-enlisting, Mitchell decided to enter back into the private sector. He was discharged in December 2004.
Mitchell began working for the county about three years ago. When he began he worked in the jail. About five or six months later he was promoted to a road deputy.
"The sheriff asked if I wanted him (Max) and I told him yes. I wanted the responsibility. I like dogs and I already had one at the house," he said, adding that his other dog is a Jack Russell Terrier.
Connecting with Max was also important. When Mitchell first received Max the two trained twice a week. The training wasn't necessarily for Max. Instead it was to give the two a chance to become friends and get to know one another.
"That's all we did was become buddies the first three weeks," he said.
Mitchell is more than Max's handler. He is Max's owner.
"If you train with him you can pretty much learn his habits," he said.
Unlike a drug dog who is trained to smell drugs, Max is a tracking dog. Max can be used to help locate people who have been reported missing, escapees and those individuals who find it necessary to run from police.
"It's a great asset," Mitchell said.
Max doesn't track only by scent. He instead is trained to track from ground disturbance such as crushed weeds or grass, he said.
When Max is needed to track, Mitchell puts a special harness on the dog. Max immediately knows he is going to work and begins to get excited. Max has not been neutered. Mitchell said altering a tracking dog makes them not as efficient because it takes "the drive" out of them.
Although Mitchell and Max have been called to a variety of calls, they aren't always able to help. Many times the situation has been handled before Mitchell is able to get Max and respond to the location where he is needed. However, one instance recently was quite different. With Max's help Mitchell was able to locate an elderly woman with dementia who had strayed from her daughter's home. The woman had fallen down part of a bluff and was injured.
"The dog really paid for himself," Mitchell said. "I was really proud of him."
Mitchell and Max don't work together on duty each day. Max is only brought in when the office receives a call in which the administration believes Max can be of assistance. Before the county received Max, the sheriff's office would have to call the K-9 units at the prison at Calico Rock if they needed to find someone. The only other option was to contact a man at Linn who also has tracking dogs.
"It's good to have them. It really helps out," he said. "I'm hoping from now on the department will always have one."
The department seems to like having another ally in its fight against crime. In fact, Max is equipped with his own leather collar made for him especially by Chief Deputy David Huffmaster's father, Jack Huffmaster. The collar says "Deputy Max" and even has tiny badges on either side of his name.
The relationship between Mitchell and his four-legged friend doesn't end at the end of Mitchell's shift. Max actually lives with Mitchell and his family.
"He's just like a family member," Mitchell said. "He's taken up with my wife and son. He's just like a family pet."
Mitchell said if the county ever decides not to use Max, he hopes to continue to keep him as a pet.