People and Their Pets: Serve and Protect

BY Cory Mac Pherson

With regard to dogs it may be time to redefine that age-old adage: mans best friend. “Companionship” is whats usually inferred when the conversation arrives at that philosophical saying. While thats still true today mans best friend has become much more than just a friend. Dogs assist us when our physical needs are a challenge protect us when we feel threatened and serve us in official capacities previously unimagined.

In our sixth annual People and Their Pets we happily present some cool and accomplished K-9s and their fortunate grateful and loving owners.

For Bunnie Bachman owner of Bachman Realty two Bouvier des Flandres Savannah and Etiol are her special companions. Bachman takes them almost everywhere. They love to play ball walk on the beach ride in the boat and run in the park like every other dog but what makes them different is that they are trained to work for Bachman as security dogs providing protection when and if necessary.

Working in real estate involves previewing maintaining and showing empty houses. “When I go to work in a vacant house I dont have to go alone ” Bachman says. During the off-season in particular she spends a significant amount of time maintaining rental properties. When shes changing light bulbs or fixing a leaky faucet she appreciates having her loyal sentries beside her.

Bachman herself trained Savannah and Etiol in Virginia Beach. The obedience and protection training program they entered took approximately a year and a half to complete. Training your own dogs creates a special bond between owner and pet a bond that is obvious to anyone who meets Bachman and her dogs. Another advantage to a self-training program is that the dogs retain the training better if they are working for the person who trained them.

Despite their training as security and protection dogs Savannah and Etiol are exceptionally loving and gentle so much so that Bachman even takes them to nursing homes and rehabilitation centers once a month where they work as therapy dogs. In the rehab centers the patients are so excited to see Savannah and Etiol that they will push themselves harder to be able to pet them.

Bachman sees Savannah and Etiol for what they are: loving confident hard-working dogs her special friends. “Theyre wonderful companions who have a good judgment in character ” she says.

I have the best job in the world ” says Wilmington Police Officer Kirti Vithalani. Vithalani works for the WPD K-9 Unit. His partner is a German Shepherd named Arko.

Like the five other police dogs in the WPD K-9 Unit Arko is certified in narcotics and tracking. Vithalani explains that the training begins when the dogs are approximately 18 months old and includes special education in tracking street work apprehension work bite work obedience evidence searching suspect searching and agility. Arko and his colleagues are taught both voice and hand commands.

The dogs are used in the investigation of serious crimes drugs violent crimes robbery and domestic violence. So far theyve helped capture more than 50 criminals and performed more than 100 drug searches.

“They work hard ” says Officer Vithalani. “And they love to work.” When Arko sees Vithalani flick the switch to turn on the blue lights of his vehicle he gets excited because he knows its time to work. The dogs are reward driven they love the praise the officers give them when they find a suspect or drugs. The bond between the officers and their dogs is strong. It has to be. The work they are performing together is often dangerous and requires a strong sense of teamwork. To a man and to a dog this sense of loyalty affection and teamwork is clear and present. “Theyre out there to please us ” says Officer Vithalani. “Theyre out there to serve.”

In late 1989 David Mickler had an accident that caused him to lose mobility in his legs hands and wrists. When he heard Carolina Canines For Service Inc. was starting in Wilmington he was excited: He always had an interest in service dogs. It didnt take him long to get in touch with Rick Hairston the president of Carolina Canines who introduced him to Saint a Newfoundland/Lab mix. “Its where my heart is with Carolina Canines ” Mickler says. “They just add so much to your life.”

On December 7 1999 approximately 10 years after Micklers accident Saint was the first service dog placed in Wilmington and Mickler was his grateful companion.

Before service dogs are placed they go through a two-year education program with a foster family. Volunteers open their hearts and homes and spend time giving the dogs their basic training. The dogs then go through a pairing process to ensure that the dog and the owner will work well as a team. Mickler trained Saint at his house teaching him up to 60 different commands including how to open a door and how to retrieve.

As Saint approached retirement age (8 years old) Mickler started noticing he was a little slower and slightly less motivated. Mickler dreaded the thought of re-acclimating to another service dog. “I didnt think I could ever love a dog again ” he says. That all changed when he saw Joy. He looked into the big dark eyes of the golden retriever and fell in love all over again. “Shes picked up where Saint left off ” he says.

Saint and Joy have opened doors for Mickler and not just literally. “They give me independence ” he says. “They help break down barriers. Theyre my goodwill ambassadors to the world.”

Car Motza Fando Bonnie and Nando arent your everyday dogs. They are highly trained members of the New Hanover County Sheriffs Department K-9 Unit assigned to search local schools detention centers and streets.

The K-9 Units dogs earn their certification as Police Dog 1 and Police Dog 2 after an intense training regimen. Police Dog 1 Certification includes obedience basic heel commands and demonstration of control without a leash by both verbal and hand commands. They have to be able to perform a suspect search an article search and apprehension with gunfire and without. Police Dog 2 Certification involves specialized training for searching for narcotics including a test in which the dogs must identify which two cars out of a possible five are hiding narcotics. They go through similar tests for building searches and in fact for each phase of the training.

Going through all of that training creates a special bond between the handler/deputy and the dog. “Its definitely the most rewarding job in the department because you get to see the product of your hard work ” says Deputy Josh Botbol. And all that hard work pays off: Each deputy says that the best feeling is when his dog gets illegal drugs off the street. The commitment the deputies make to their dogs is returned in full. They become inseparable teammates.

Its a commitment that continues well beyond the training and even past the work day. The deputies and their dogs in fact are never really off the clock. The dogs live with their deputy and become part of the family.

Although each deputy agrees that the dogs are pets and family members Deputy Botbol explains that these dogs are different from normal pets because of their high level of energy. “They work at 110 miles per hour 24 hours per day ” he says. “Theyre so excited and always ready to work.”

Motza Car Bonnie and the other dogs work for approximately eight years depending on their health. When they retire from the department they continue to live a happy life in the comfort of their handlers home. Sergeant Clay Benton explains “Theyre not only your work partner but your life partner too.”