Spaniels Join Forces with German Shepherds As Sheriff Expands K-9 Unit to Include More Comfort
(Elizabeth Schanz, July 20, 2020)
Pontiac, MI – The Oakland County Sheriff’s Office is developing a new approach to K9 forces in law enforcement. Contrasting the typical K9 units made up of large, intimidating German Shepherds is the K9 comfort dog unit which consists of small, cuddly King Charles Cavalier Spaniels.
The K9 comfort unit expanded to eight dogs this Monday with the newest additions Sadie and Wildcat, just 10 to 11 weeks old. The dogs, sporting their service badges and service vests, are not just a cute face, but are able to assist the community and law enforcement in a unique way.
This team of K9s aims to work as a mental health aid to the community alongside law enforcement. The dogs are a supplemental tool in mental health crisis calls, helping to de-escalate situations, visit communities and high schools such as Oxford High School, helping students return to school following the shooting in November, and even assisting the mental health of police officers themselves.
Oakland County Sheriff Michael Bouchard wants to continue to expand the comfort unit, noting that within the next seven weeks two more dogs are expected to join.
This K9 comfort unit is thought to be one of the only of its kind in law enforcement, shaping interactions with the community through the additional capabilities the dogs provide. Bouchard says that by using these dogs there can be many positive outcomes.
“You know the old phrase ‘the cavalry is coming’, the cavaliers are coming,” Bouchard said, “If a dog can help us and it can relieve the tension and anxiety of anyone, better.”
This program has taken form over the past three years after Bouchard realized the community could benefit from the aid of comfort dogs as mental health crises seemed to rise. He wanted to make sure that the dogs were accessible to different individuals, including those in hospital beds or in wheelchairs. Bouchard noted their mild temperament, and the fact they are not intimidating leading to the selection of the King Charles Cavalier Spaniel breed.
Before the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020 Bouchard had begun working with the first two dogs in the unit. One of them is his own canine, Max. However, with shut-downs and the reduced ability for the dogs to interact with others the expansion of the program was halted. Now, with less COVID restrictions Bouchard said that the goal to expand the K9 unit is taking shape and their interactions with the public.
“Get them [the dogs] into more substations, into more communities, and expand our capabilities,” Bouchard said, “They’ll be in everyday kind of policing. They’re at substations, you’ll see them at school events, community events. They are just out and about.”
Bouchard stated that the biggest part of training these dogs is the integration from a young age into their role. He noted that Wildcat, one of the youngest and newest puppies, was able to diffuse and de-escalate a mental health call the police had received within her first week as part of the K9 team.
Another aspect of these dogs training are the connections the dogs have to their designated officer who takes the lead on the dogs training. These individuals take the dogs home at night and become part of their family and eventually, when the dog retires, will stay home with them.
Gill Garrett who works out of the Pontiac station is the handler of one of the newest additions, Sadie. After watching helping to get the word out about the K9 comfort unit and watching the team expand, he is ecstatic about his new partner and looks forward to the work that they will do together.
Garrett has been a part of the Pontiac community for 25 years and notices that Sadie’s presence draws people in, starts conversations, and creates positive relationships. He feels that Sadie helps to provide another connection to community and policing.
“How she has been received in the community the last couple of days, it was amazing,” emphasized Garrett, “She [Sadie] sets the tone, breaks the ice and we can get into some of the courageous conversations that we do need to have.”
Garrett emphasized that the community can engage with Sadie in-person through various events such as the Golden Opportunity Club, a senior event, visits to Pontiac schools, and other public appearances. Additionally, people can get in contact with Garrett and Sadie’s through the dog’s social media: her Instagram @deputysadie, her Facebook, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The K9 unit currently has dogs assigned to multiple communities in addition to Pontiac including, the School Resource Deputies in Independence Township, Oxford, Rochester Hills and other locations as well. With these numerous locations and the expansion of the team, Bouchard hopes that these dogs will continue to make an impact on the lives of others. Their larger counterparts still have a home with the County as well, with German Shephards still on call to search for people, drugs, bombs, etc.