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Ohio University Police Department K9 officer Alex with his handler Tim Woodyard.

Meet the only two explosive-detection dogs in southeast Ohio

Ohio University is home to the only two explosive-detection dogs in southeast Ohio.

After the Boston Marathon bombing, people realized there was not enough protection from bombs and explosives. Homeland Security started putting grants out, and OU was offered two grants for two K9 officers. 

OUPD lieutenant Tim Ryan said last fiscal year they spent $6,076.78 on veterinary bills and $2,960.21 on food for the K9 officers. 

Alex, handled by OUPD Officer Tim Woodyard, was OU’s first K9 officer and has been with the university for the past four years.

Brody, handled by OUPD Officer Mike Harlow, has been a K9 officer with OUPD for more than a year.

Both of OUPD’s K9 officers are single-purpose officers, meaning they are only trained to detect bombs, unlike other K9 officers that are dual-purpose. 

Harlow believes being single-purpose makes the dogs more approachable. 

“Everybody wants to come see the dogs,” Harlow said. “Them being single-purpose makes them friendlier because they don’t do the bite work.” 

Before being able to work with the K9 police officers, the dogs had to be taken to their handlers’ houses to make sure each dog had a safe place to live and that both families were on board with a new family member. 

A master trainer went through a selection process for the ideal explosive-detection dog. 

Having past luck with rescues, the trainer found 1-year-old Alex in a shelter in Columbus. Being 20 pounds lighter than he is now, and what the shelter called an escape artist, he was chosen for the training process.

Brody was originally trained in Slovakia, and brought to New York as a Homeland Security bomb dog. He trained with another handler at OUPD before Harlow, but was partnered with Harlow after his initial handler retired. 

The training process Alex and Woodyard went through took 10 weeks with the Columbus Fire Department bomb squad. Alex was trained to associate sniffing out bombs with a reward, which in his case was food. Each time he successfully sniffed out an explosive, Woodyard would feed him out of the palm of his hand. 

“The master trainer imprints them on the odors, which means before the handler gets them, the dog usually already knows its odors,” Woodyard said. 

When learning the odors, distractors are also put around them so that the dog is able to distinguish between an odor that is and isn’t harmful. That is done about 40 to 60 times a day. 

“The dogs are very important to the university,” Woodyard said. “You can’t take a machine and sniff out Peden Stadium before a game.”

The K9 officers are by their handlers’ sides 24/7. They work the same hours, which means Alex and Brody have a work week of about 40 hours. They then go home with their handler every night. 

Unlike a family dog, though, the K9 officers are the property of the university. 

“You’re always paranoid about something happening to him,” Woodyard said. 

The handlers have to be extra careful with the dogs, especially because of the negative publicity that the university and officer could get if a dog was harmed. 

“He’s depending on me to keep him safe and keep him comfortable,” Harlow said. 

K9 officers typically work until they are 8 to 10 years old, but medical emergencies can end their careers earlier. Since the explosive detection work isn’t as physically demanding for a dog as aggression work, their retirement depends on their health.

Police dogs prefer to work, Woodyard said. 

After they retire, they tend to miss doing their job. Since Alex has been working since he was about 1-year-old, it’s all he knows what to do. 

Once Alex and Brody have to retire and can’t work anymore, Harlow and Woodyard can buy them for $1. Technically, they aren’t able to give the dogs to their handlers for free since they are the property of the school. 

The explosive-detection dogs are not only used at the university, but their services are loaned out for other big events. They’ve worked at the NFL Hall of Fame, Columbus Pride and Jamboree in the Hills, a country music festival. 

Just like OU needs additional dogs for events like football games and Halloween, events around the state also need extra help occasionally. 

@megchriistine

mc199517@ohio.edu

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