Ever wonder what happens to dogs who flunk out of guide dog school?
Well, some of them are trained to work in police departments.
That was just one of the interesting facts shared Wednesday night at the K-9 Patrol Family Event at the New City Library. Detective Melissa Johnston of the R brought her canine partner Lollie, a black Labrador Retriever, to the event and answered questions about the training and work of a dog. She then demonstrated Lollie’s ability to find a hidden package of black powder just by using her sense of smell.
Ten-and-a-half-year-old Lollie has worked in the explosives department for eight years and will likely be retired at the end of this year. She did flunk out of guide dog school, but as Johnston pointed out after the demonstration, this in fact made her easier to train for her police duties.
“They have basic training, basic obedience, which is good,” Johnston said of dogs who attended guide dog school. “So they’re used to people, they’re very good with people, and children. And also they’re used to going out to places. The guiding eye dogs, they take them to malls and restaurants, so when you’re taking the working [police] dog into one of those places they’re not shy or confused. They’ve already been introduced to that place, so it’s good that they’re socialized.”
Johnston also pointed out after the demonstration why Labrador Retrievers in particular are often used for police work.
“They’re not very intimidating to people when we do search, when we go to train stations and they’re searching people and bags, people’s aren’t scared and running away from them,” Johnston said.
Labradors are used for less aggressive purposes, while German Shepherds and other similar breeds are often used to chase down criminals. While some dogs are trained to sniff out different types of items (such as weapons and explosives), Johnston noted during the presentation that most dogs are trained in one particular area so that they can be best at finding those specific items.
Lollie trained in the K-9 program of the Maine State Police for about six months, where she learned the basics of learning the smells of different explosives, sitting when she smelled an explosive on site, and receiving a food treat as a reward.Before Johnston went to Maine to train for two months as a canine handler, she talked to the officers in Maine over the phone, who then matched her with a dog that they felt best suited her personality. Lollie joined the department at age two, and Johnston has had her for over eight years.
Johnston trains with Lollie in the office for about three hours each day. Lollie is fed all the time, but Johnston cannot put her on too strict of an eating schedule because the two might get called to a scene at any time of day or night. The two work together Monday through Thursday, and whenever Lollie is off-duty she lives with Johnston. Lollie will live with Johnston permanently once she is retired. Johnston will be able to buy her from the county for a price of one dollar.
Johnston clarified after the presentation that she started out as a patrol officer within the sheriff's department. Then in 2005 she brought Lollie with her to Alabama for several weeks so Johnston could train as a bomb technician. Johnston worked as a bomb technician and a patrol officer until 2006, when she was promoted to detective.
The demonstration was put together by Sally Pellegrini, Community Relations and Local Librarian for the New City Library. Most of the presentations and events she runs are for adults only, but she set up this event for families since school had just let out and she felt this would give parents something to do with their children.
“I’ve never done this kind of program, and it’s just something I thought the public might be interested in knowing because it is such as unusual activity in the county, using the dogs. And I think people should be educated and made aware of it, what they’re doing with them. … Dog stories are always popular with the public. People love dogs.”
Indeed residents of all ages came out for the show. Some were parents with their young children, such as Dawn and Jason Hopper, who came with their 4-year-old son Alex.
“He likes animals, so we’d thought he’d have fun,” Dawn Hopper said about her son. “He likes police officers too. … He really wanted to pet the dog; I think that was the main thing he wanted to do.”
Other older residents came simply because they are interested in dogs and the work that they do for the county. Susan from Pomona was particularly impressed that Lollie could identify 45 different types and combinations of explosives, according to Johnston.
“The most interesting part was knowing the variety of odors that the dog can cue into,” Susan said. “Amazing what an animal can do. People underestimate them. Seeing it like this [you] realize how smart dogs are.”
Sally Pellegrini said she runs an average of 15 to 20 library events for adults per month. Earlier this month she held events that ranged from discussions of kayaking and Picasso to more serious topics like a presentation on ways to cope with grief and loss.
Next month many of these events will center around the 75th anniversary of the library. On Friday July 15th, the library will hold an anniversary reception at 7 p.m., with guest speakers Senator David Carlucci and Clarkstown Historian Robert Knight. Knight will specifically talk about the history of the land the library currently stands on. The following night there will be a big band concert featuring music from the 1930s and 1940s, the era when the library first opened.
Other upcoming adult programs include a tour of Long Pond Iron Works in Ringwood, New Jersey on July 9, a crochet class on July 13, and a virtual tour of the Lower East Side on July 27.
For more information on these and other upcoming library events, go to www.newcitylibrary.org.