Last week, two Mount Pleasant Police Department (MPPD) K-9 units received a generous gift from a family in the community. Tim Tracy and his family donated two vests to K-9 Chapo and K-9 Vondi in efforts to keep them safer while protecting the community.
"I think it's something the dogs obviously need. They're put in situations a lot of time where they're out in front of handlers; they're out in front of a team, sometimes our SWAT team. They're going to be the first contact with any situation we're doing," Sgt. Gary Myers explained. "That being said, us having the ability to be able to put a vest on them to protect them like we have and we wear every day is a true benefit for the dog, the department and truly the community."
Myers is the handler of the only Bloodhound in the department, K-9 Harley. Harley is trained specifically to track for the police department, while the other three shepherds with MPPD are also trained in some type of apprehension to bite people if they are a threat to enforcement.
The MPPD currently has four canines on their team and are getting ready to add a fifth within the next month. The two dogs that were recipients of the vests were SPO Tommy Plyler's K-9 Chapo and SPO Michael Poore's K-9 Vondi, both of which are German Shepherd Malinois mix. SPO Andrew Scott is the handler K-9 Thor, which is a German Shepherd Belgian Malinois mix.
Scott described last week's vest donation as a great opportunity for the police department to build a community relationship and bond with their dogs. He said letting the family that donated the vests meet the dogs allowed them to see a side that some people don't really get to see.
"It's not the first time that we've had the community reach out to us for this certain vest donation. But it's always good to see new handlers, with their new dogs being able to meet the people who donate the vests and their families," he shared.
Myers seconded Scott's statements and said that the unit is thrilled to see the community engagement while receiving vests for their K-9s.
"The nice thing about it is they're pretty easy to put on. If we put any dog in a situation where they'd more than likely come in contact with anybody violent, we're going to put a vest on," Myers said.
A day in the life of a K-9 officer
The K-9s wear collars every day and then other equipment depend on the incidents or tasks they are assigned. If the dogs are going on a track, they'll wear a tracking harness. For narcotic detection they may just wear a collar. Violent prone situations are what call for the K-9 to be put into a vest. Myers said they wouldn't put them on for events that aren't dangerous such as demonstrations or searches for missing children because they're hot and can wear the dog out faster.
Policies determine which crime incidents require a K-9 unit. Myers said that although most things are incident specific, the department can ultimately decide if a K-9 present would benefit the department or community.
Myers explained that officers must go through a selection process to get onto MPPD's K-9 team. Requirements include a physical agility test and interview process, and then selections are made and approved by MPPD Chief of Police, Carl Ritchie. Once that process is done, the officer is placed on the K-9 unit and matched with a dog that fits their personality. Together the K-9 and handler go through training to get certified and then can get on the road as a K-9 team.
"I think it's probably the best job in the department," Scott said. "Being able to have a dog in the backseat 10-12 hours a day, getting to be able to just take a break to play catch with the dog is nice," Scott said. "Also, knowing if something were to happen, all that training is going to pay off and he's going to have your back. It's a fun job for sure."
Myers said that it took him a long time to get into the K-9 program because of where he was in the department, and that his position as a K-9 officer is very fulfilling.
"We're fortunate. Our chief is very, very supportive of our K-9 program," Myers said.
MPPD has had several K-9s retire this year and given to the handlers to keep.
"If the handler wants to keep them, they get first option to keep that dog once it retires from the police department," Myers said.
They said that the dogs are much more than just a part of the police department.
"They're part of our family. They also stay with us. We're with them probably more than our family at some times," Scott said.
Scott said the K-9s go home with the handlers and follow them around the house. But, when they go to work, the dogs are ready to put their uniform on and go.
MPPD has all Explorer SUV vehicles equipped to protect and utilize their K-9s easily. They have kennels in the backseat with padded floors and water bowls. The K-9s have access to the front of the vehicle if needed and the cars are equipped with doors that open on their own if the dogs push a button.
The cars also are equipped with heat alarm systems if the vehicle malfunctions. Prior to the engine stopping or the AC turning off, the officers receive alerts on their cell phones. If the car reaches 90 degrees, an alarm will go off, windows will go down and a fan will start blowing. Scott explained that everyone in the area would be able to hear the prevention system of a dog getting left in the car. When the officers lock their car, it will also beep to remind them to remove the K-9 from the car. Scott says there are a lot of safety measures to make sure their dogs are taken care of and that a heat injury doesn't happen.
Scott said he worked hard to find a dog food that worked best for their K-9 unit and picked a brand that is consistent with a working dog.
"It has high protein and high fat to keep up with their drive. If it were a normal dog they'd probably get overweight, but with them because they're exerting so much energy all the time it just helps maintain their body," he said.
Scott and Myers said that they are part of a small group within the law enforcement community since there aren't many K-9s in throughout the country. They enjoy traveling to different states to talk to K-9 handlers.
They enjoy working with the public for demonstrations and getting involved in exciting incidents because the dogs can assist. They explain that a K-9's assistance is tremendous when it comes to finding evidence or tracking people.
"The time it takes them to find something or do something versus a human; it's drastically quicker," Scott said.
Myers said within the last year one dog found guns during an article search. One was a rifle in a case and the other was a handgun. He explained the K-9s also find evidence like narcotics that people will drop.
Scott's K-9 recently did a track that is leading up to charges and warrants. Myers said those things may not have happened if the dogs hadn't been out there.
The MPPD K-9 unit does demonstrations at schools, churches and they are open to any organizations that want a public demonstration performed. Myers said as long as they're available and the facility would be appropriate, they can let community members meet the dog, explain what their dogs do and if there's an opportunity they'll do demonstrations.
MPPD Inspector Chip Googe said that the vest donations last week were such a nice gesture. Within a short time of posting photos on social media, he had multiple people comment to see if the department could benefit from additional donations.
"It was exciting to see the community involvement, how much the community wants to reach out and do things for the agency," Googe said. "We have a very engaged community that wants to do things for us and I think as officers, it's great to see that the community doesn't want to just sit back and see things happen. They want to partner with us."
Googe emphasized that MPPD cares about a K-9 just like they would any officer on the street.
"Any equipment that we can give them to make their job safer, just like we would their human counterparts is going to make our officers feel better about being out in the woods, doing a track, or just doing their job in general," he said.