WAPAKONETA — At Von der Haus Gill, heroes are born, not made.
And Al Gill has bred a lot of them — more than 3,000 in the last 34 years — many sent out across the nation to serve in law enforcement in police departments’ K-9 units.
On his 20-acre facility east of Wapakoneta, Gill breeds German shepherds to fulfill a role in law enforcement by making sure they have the right combination of instincts.
To find good stock, Gill sources his German shepherds from Germany due to the overall higher quality of breeds available overseas. He makes the trip five to six times a year to find dogs with good instincts to bring back to Ohio and breed more dogs. His current facility can hold up to 60 adult animals.
Once dogs are raised or acquired, the next step is training, where dogs and handlers spend six weeks bonding and learning the ropes during 12- to 14-hour days.
“They’re usually pretty tired. It’s grueling,” Gill said. “When it gets to a point when the dogs are exhausted, we take a break.”
Lessons, however, often continue for their handlers. From medical requirements of dogs to the necessary legal knowledge, a handler’s learning is supplemented in the classroom.
By the time the German shepherds are cleared to put on a badge, officer and dog should have formed a well-reinforced bond, strengthened by well-focused attention on the two’s relationship.
It’s something Gill knows well, with first-hand experience.
When Gill first got into dog breeding, he was asked to prepare a dog for the Wapakoneta Police Department and work as a police dog handler. In those days, dogs were bred for single purposes, such as tracking, officer protection work or tactical operations.
But today, breeding has changed the types of dogs available. Many police departments now prefer multi-purpose dogs due to the lower costs involved. Gill has also seen the rise of explosive detection dogs due to the rise of homeland security interests in the last two decades.
As for Von der Haus Gill, the business snowballed as Gill gained experience. While he works to train and breed dogs for law enforcement, he’s gained some recognition in the field, earning a place at the national board that sets accreditation requirements for dog breeders. Some of his best “studs” even have year-long waiting lists.
“When they give you a lifetime achievement award, you know you’re old,” Gill said. “This is just kind of what we all do.”
Reach Josh Ellerbrock at 567-242-0398.