Serving the Community: A Tribute to the Lima Police canines and their handlers

More than 14 years ago, Lima Police Sgt. Ron Conner approached me about providing veterinary care for the Lima Police Canine Unit. At the time of this request, I was somewhat naive about this important role, however, the decision to take it on was an easy one. While I knew I would be performing basic veterinary care for these canines, what I wasn’t fully prepared for was the unique human/animal bond the handlers and their canine partners share.

Not many people can say that they spend 24/7 with a best buddy that would take a bullet or give up his or her life for them. Sergeant Conner had just such an experience with Canine Argo during his career. Argo, a male German Shepherd with beauty inside and out, once launched himself out of his cruiser to rescue Conner during a violent encounter with a bad guy. This event led to Argo being rewarded the Ohio Veterinary Medical Association’s Service Dog Award during his active career.

To develop such a bond starts with careful selection of dogs with appropriate ability to learn, as well as “drive” to work. German Shepherds have traditionally been the preferred breed for this role, although other breeds such as the Belgian Malinois and Golden and Labrador Retrievers are commonly used, too. Currently, the Lima Police Canine Unit consists of five German Shepherds, ranging in age from 3 to 8 years old.

All service dogs need to be physically fit, especially when it comes to joint health. Ideally, they should have their hips and elbows certified by veterinary radiologists before entering service. Once prospective Lima Police dogs pass screening for intelligence, drive and joint health, their next stop is a visit to our veterinary hospital for a health assessment. A thorough veterinary exam is conducted to insure the dog is free of congenital defects and in good general health to reliably perform the services they are asked to do.

The tasks of the Lima Police Canines include, but are not limited to daily patrol work, suspect and narcotic tracking and public demonstrations. These incredible canines and their handlers do a minimum of 15 minutes of training daily, two 8 hour training sessions as a unit monthly, and they attend 1-2 regional week-long seminars annually to learn from others outside their area.

Living and working day-in and day-out with these service dogs definitely leads to an intensely cohesive bond. As described by Conner, these canines and their handlers know each other inside and out, and can sense each other’s emotions, tension, and even illness. The dogs live to work and are highly skilled at knowing when to “turn the switch on,” yet can walk in to a classroom of young children and be a friend.

These abilities are truly the end result of the strongest of relationships between canine and handler that lead to undying devotion on the part of each. Conner states, “There’s nothing better” when the two members of this exemplary bond get into a cruiser together.

The saddest of days is when age or terminal illness impacts the canines and retirement appears on their horizon. Handlers must then struggle to give these dogs an ongoing sense of employment when they no longer get to go to work together.

Current Specialty Unit Commander for the Lima Police Canine Unit Sgt. Nick Hart has already thought about his six year old canine, “Bailey’s” retirement. He intends to continue to give Bailey training and play sessions in his golden period, but of a lower caliber, to stimulate his mind and body — a philosophy all two- and four-legged retirees benefit from.

When working with these service dogs in an exam room, I am repeatedly awed by the bond the Lima Police canines and their handlers share. The handlers are very skilled at guiding their dogs through proper behavior for sometimes uncomfortable procedures in the veterinary hospital setting. However, at no time do I ever feel at risk while in a small room with a four-legged weapon such as these.

It is truly my honor and privilege to protect and serve those that live to protect and serve others, be they two- or four-legged. Thank you, Lima Police, and, especially, the Lima Police Canine Unit, for your commitment to excellence, for recognizing and using the skills of service dogs, and for all you do to keep everyone safe.

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LPD SWAT Team member Aaron Montgomery poses with Grizz.
http://www.limaohio.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/54/2015/11/web1_vet.jpgLPD SWAT Team member Aaron Montgomery poses with Grizz. Submitted photo

http://www.limaohio.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/54/2015/11/web1_Jones-Bonnie-Dr.-CMYK.jpg Submitted photo

By Dr. Bonnie Jones

The Lima News

Dr. Bonnie Jones is co-owner of Delphos Animal Hospital which she operates with her husband, John H. Jones, DVM . She was valedictorian and Outstanding Senior Clinician of The Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine Class of 1985.