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Saturday, March 2, 2024
March 2, 2024

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Paw & order: Dogs and even one cat on ‘paw-trol’ with Clark County Sheriff’s Office’s volunteer corps

By , Columbian staff reporter
5 Photos
Darlene Schwieter walks her dog Scout, a 14-year-old bichon poodle, in her neighborhood in Ridgefield. Schwieter is one of nearly 100 people who have signed their pets up for the Clark County Sheriff&rsquo;s Office&rsquo;s Paws on Patrol program.
Darlene Schwieter walks her dog Scout, a 14-year-old bichon poodle, in her neighborhood in Ridgefield. Schwieter is one of nearly 100 people who have signed their pets up for the Clark County Sheriff’s Office’s Paws on Patrol program. (Photos by Taylor Balkom/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

The Clark County Sheriff’s Office’s newest volunteers look a little different from those who usually don the badge. To start, they have four legs, furry coats and a keen sense of hearing.

The volunteers are members of the Paws on Patrol program. They are pets and their owners who undergo training to watch for and report suspicious activity in their neighborhoods while enjoying their regular walks.

It’s a program that sheriff’s office officials say encourages people to get to know their neighbors and helps deputies learn of problems they’re not otherwise aware of.

Launched Aug. 1, the sheriff’s office program joins a similar one at the Vancouver Police Department. The sheriff’s office will oversee volunteers who wish to participate anywhere in Clark County, outside of Vancouver city limits. Outreach coordinator Kasey Frazier said the program will even accept volunteers from other cities in the county, so anyone can participate.

“Who knows best what’s normal, what’s not normal, where they walk every day?” Frazier said. “It’s also to help people to be more aware of their own personal safety, because a lot of people are preoccupied with their phones and music, and they don’t hear or see what’s going on around them.”

Darlene Schwieter and her 14-year-old bichon poodle, Scout, take three walks a day. She has lived in her neighborhood since 2004 and has watched it grow and change over the decades.

Schwieter knows everyone along their walking route and what cars they drive, and the neighbors know her. She’s affectionately known as “Grandma Lollipop” to the neighborhood kids because of her always-available sweets.

“The more eyes you have — if people are seeing you walking, if they’re up to something, chances are they’re going to either think about it or be a little sneakier,” Schwieter said. “I just think it’s a great way to interact with the sheriff and for people to see the sheriff other than as being an enforcer.”

Jesse Peterson and his 10-year-old yellow Labrador, Charley, also keep their eyes peeled while strolling their northeast Vancouver neighborhood. Charley’s heightened sight, hearing and smell mean she notices things before Peterson does.

“She’s a sweetheart with a big bark,” Peterson said about his Lab. “And she’ll definitely let me know if there’s something shady going on.”

Peterson and Charley do their patrols on their nightly walks.

“This just seemed like an easy way for me to get involved with my new community. You know, we’re out anyway,” Peterson said. “It’s just, for me, a good way to say, ‘Hey, is there anything not right tonight?’”

To join, volunteers fill out an online form before watching training videos about how to report any crimes and receiving resources for other issues that might not be criminal in nature.

Cats welcome, too

Plus, a pet isn’t even required. About 100 people have signed up so far — including one person with a cat — but Frazier said she has 500 collar tags to give out to volunteers.

“I liked the training, because I didn’t know there was different numbers that you can call to report different things,” Peterson said, citing the online reporting tool as an example. “I’ve never heard anything like that, or even used that. There’s a number of different ways, and probably more appropriate ways, (to report things) than calling 911.”

Frazier said she’s noticed, whether it’s through her role with the sheriff’s office or when she’s perusing social media, that people seem to be more vocal with their concerns over rising crime in the area. The program can be a good way, she said, for people to feel like they’re making a difference toward ensuring the safety of their neighborhoods.

The program is also another way to create positive relationships between community members and the sheriff’s office, she said.

“I want people to feel like they’re part of something,” Frazier said. “There’s nothing better than having a strong relationship with your community and law enforcement.”

To sign up, people can visit clark.wa.gov/sheriff/paws-on-patrol.