AKRON, Ohio — Criminals need to heed the warning on the back of T-shirts Akron, Ohio’s K-9 officers wear: “You fight. We bite.”
Both the dogs and their handlers have the teeth necessary to do the job, said Sgt. Dale Dorn, commander of the nine dogs and their handlers in the Akron Police Department’s K-9 unit.
People who end up in court because a dog sniffed them out are usually in for more trouble than they planned, he said.
“Juries always believe the dog. They know dogs have no incentive or reason to lie,” said Dorn, who has been in the K-9 unit for 17 years.
Each week, handlers and their dogs meet at a training facility to put both patrol and drug-sniffing dogs through exercises to keep their skills sharp. Handlers take turns mowing the grass and keeping the equipment in shape at the center.
During a recent training exercise, dogs tracked officers impersonating criminals as they hid in simulated buildings or behind automobile doors and tried unsuccessfully to flee.
Dorn explained that the dogs are an added layer of protection for officers.
“It’s nice to have the dog as a buffer. Even if the bad guy is armed, do you know how hard it is to shoot a moving dog?”
Attending a recent practice session was an experience of a lifetime for Zed Edgar and his friend, Andrew Jewell, both 8 and students at St. Sebastian School.
Zed’s mother, Mary Pat Doorley, was high bidder for the event at a fundraising auction at the school last September.
Doorley, chief spokeswoman for the Cuyahoga Valley National Park, said she took a vacation day to accompany the boys to the practice so they could meet their favorite dogs and handlers.
“Zed brought the K-9 training poster for the officers to sign,” Doorley said.
The boys watched Officer Darren McConnell and his Belgian Malinois patrol dog, Recon, stop a “bad guy” — portrayed by a fellow officer — in his tracks. Recon was introduced to the boys after the demonstration and seemed as taken with them as they were with him.
“I’ve always had a respect for what they can do,” McConnell said of the dogs. “We are together 24 hours a day, seven days a week — whether we want to be or not,” he joked.
Classroom visits, seminars
The K-9 teams visit classrooms and give seminars to educate the community about the services the dogs provide.
Officers tell their audiences that no matter how tempting, never approach the animal without getting permission from the handler first.
“People want to go home and say, ‘I touched a police dog.’ It’s like a feather in their cap,” Dorn said.
Malinois are hunting dogs bred to work in packs. They are generally used for patrolling duties because they get along well with each other.
“Imagine being a bad guy in Akron and you have not one but two dogs coming after you,” Dorn said.
Detective Al Jones has been a member of the Street Narcotic Uniform Detail for 19 of the 22 years he has been on the department. His black Labrador retriever named Midnight is a drug sniffer, trained to find drugs on people and in buildings and cars.
The dog lives in harmony with Jones’ grandchildren and with his daughter’s tiny Yorkshire terrier/poodle mix, he said.
“My little guy — (grandson) Dominique — he’s crazy about him. I come in late at night and he calls the dog,” Jones said.
When his wife agreed to share their home with Midnight, Jones conceded to her one demand: The dog sleeps in a kennel, not in the couple’s bed.
His answer was never in question, Jones said.
“I’ve been with her 29 years, and I’ll only be with him three years,” he joked.
Since 1992, the unit has been able to function with financial support from the city and donations from the public.
Gunny, Dorn’s partner for the past 10 years, is on the cusp of retirement. As a retiree, Gunny will live out his golden years as a favored member of the Dorn family.
Fundraisers, including a community picnic, pay for office supplies and items the teams use for public relations. The dogs are a huge hit with residents, and the unit is probably the most popular in the city’s police department, Dorn said.
“Our incidentals are about $3,000 to $4,000 a year,” said Dorn, just about the same as the K-9 unit takes in at the fundraiser each year on donated silent auction items.
The city pays for food, veterinarian bills and the occasional boarding fee. All other expenses are paid by the handlers or through fundraising efforts.
“Chief (James) Nice sees the advantages of our unit for the safety of officers and the cost efficiency,” Dorn said. Akron businesses donate funds to purchase the animals, so the city hasn’t had to buy a dog in years, he said.
Training, which is estimated to run between $15,000 and $20,000, is all done in-house.
“We do our own training here with curriculum from the state of Ohio. We’ve graduated 12 dogs, and the cost is immensely reduced,” Dorn said.