Some Zachary seventh-graders got to witness firsthand how a lesson in the classroom can be applied to real life Oct. 31 when they were treated to a visit by K-9 handlers and their dogs from the East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff’s Office K-9 Division in Zachary.
“This is where the rubber meets the road,” English teacher Terin Patin said. “We’re trying as teachers to show our students what they learned in the classroom can be applied to real situations.”
Patin, along with fellow English teachers Melissa Hodge and Kathy Rish, were accompanied by Northwestern Principal Debby Brian to visit Capt. James Broussard at the K-9 training facility prior to the dogs’ visit.
“We want you to demonstrate for our students that unbreakable bond between handler and dog,” Rish told Broussard.
Students read an article in English class about military dogs, viewed a video and answered critical thinking questions, Patin explained.
The article, an adaptation of “The Dogs of War” by Michael Paternini for National Geographic, is about military working dogs and tells the story of Marine Cpl. Jose Armenta, who lost his legs during an explosion caused by an improvised explosive device that was left behind by Taliban fighters. The soldier’s dog, Zenit, was by his side, inherently knowing something was wrong.
Armenta and Zenit were one of hundreds of teams deployed by the military, with Zenit trained to sniff out explosives.
After 12 operations, Armenta waked to discover Zenit had been assigned to another handler, according to Paternini’s article.
The wounded soldier spent months calling and writing letters, waiting to be reunited with Zenit, the article states.
Other soldiers, according to Paternini, have admitted having a nagging sense of incompleteness without their dogs.
“The bond between a handler and his K-9 is unique and very strong,” Broussard told the seventh-graders. “But the way we train our dogs is different from the military.”
When a dog is retired, the handler has the option to adopt, Broussard said. Veterans don’t always have the option to do so, and currently, there are no programs in the military to reunite handlers with their dogs, according to Paternini’s article.
Three EBRSO K-9 teams — Broussard and Indo, Lt. Steven Whitstine and Tigo and Deputy Diana Wales and Enzo — demonstrated and explained to the students that nearly all handlers in law enforcement bond so strongly with their canines, the animals become their pets. Sometimes, if a handler leaves the force, his former canine partner cannot be retrained with another handler, the bond is so strong.
“More than a pet, they are a member of our family and our partners,” Wales said. “They’re deputized deputies, just like we are, and the emotion runs through the leash,” Broussard told the junior high students.
“Indo knows when I’m having a bad day, knows when something is wrong.”
Perhaps that is why Broussard and Indo did so well at the recent United States Police Canine Association National Championships in Wilson, North Carolina.
Forty-six agencies participated with 104 police K-9 teams representing 26 regions. The EBRSO K-9 division is a member of USPCA Region 10, which represents all of Louisiana.
Broussard and Indo are the first-ever Region 10 team to win and the first from Louisiana to earn the championship title. The pair scored 693.34 points out of a possible 700, receiving perfect scores in three of the five events, Broussard told the students.
Whitstine and Tigo finished fifth in agility and earned a national certification.
The Zachary seventh-graders got to experience the interaction between a handler and his dog, witnessing firsthand that unbreakable bond they read about.
Enzo and Wales performed an article search, Whitstine and Tigo demonstrated obedience commands while Broussard and Indo performed apprehension and bite work.
Students also learned there are 11 dogs in EBRSO’s K-9 division, which was started by Sheriff Sid Gautreaux eight years ago. Two canines are trained for explosives work, two in narcotics, five are single-purpose dogs and two are dual-purpose, meaning they’re trained to perform narcotics as well as apprehension work, Broussard said.
The K-9s are considered to be a valuable part of the police force.
“They are a huge investment for the community and for the Sheriff’s Office,” Broussard told the seventh-graders.
Enzo cost the Sheriff’s Office $18,500, Broussard said.
“We work a lot,” the captain said. “It’s a lengthy process they endure.”
Training for the dogs is all done in-house and at the K-9 facility at the Zachary-Pride substation.
The K-9s complete 480 hours of mandatory USPCA training, conducted by Broussard and Whitstine, both USPCA certified trainers.
Following regional training, the dogs master tactical, advance and course skills to get them ready for police work.
“Then they’re put on the street to perform their K-9 duties,” Broussard said.
In EBRSO’s K-9 division, Wales is the only female handler.
“The ratio is about 10 male handlers to one female handler,” Wales said.
Wales showed the students a release switch on her gear belt that opens her vehicle door.
“If I pop that release, Enzo jumps out and races to my side,” Wales explained. “We work as a team, and if I get nervous, Enzo knows it.” She also has a button that controls the air if the temperature rises inside her police unit.
All of the division’s dogs come from overseas, Broussard explained, since they’re trained for sport there, as opposed to show dogs in the U.S.
Commands are given in Dutch or German, so no one else can command the dogs.
K-9 police dogs are either Belgian or German Shepherds or Belgian Malinois breeds, Broussard said.
Following demonstrations that included apprehension, bite work with Deputy Cody Grace, article searches and obedience demonstrations, the students engaged in a question and answer session with the K-9 teams.