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Meet Wadsworth’s Police Canine: What Do Police K-9s Do?

Zoro, Wadsworth’s canine, is a German Shepard from Slovakia. He is eight and a half years old and has been working for Wadsworth for seven and a half years.
“Zoro is certified to detect the odor of Marijuana, Cocaine, Crack, Heroin, and Methamphetamine,” said Wadsworth’s K-9 Handler, Sergeant Seth Petit. “In addition to narcotics detection, Zoro is certified in tracking, article search, and criminal apprehension.”

Sergeant Petit is the K-9 handler for Zoro. Zoro has been working for the city for over 7 years. Photo courtesy of Seth Petit.

When Zoro was bred, he was bred with the distinct purpose of becoming a police or military working dog.
“For the first year of his life he underwent special training and screening to determine his suitability for the role,” Petit said. “Only the healthiest dogs with the best drive and temperament are selected to continue the training process.”
During Zoro’s time in training, he was trained in aggression in which he would bite things on command as a game. He also learned basic obedience, scent detection imprinting, and inoculation to noise such as gunfire.
Following that initial training, Zoro was sent to the United States and was paired with his handler, Sergeant Petit. Police K-9s normally are trained to only listen to one officer or handler and live with their handler.
“Zoro and I then completed approximately six weeks of full-time training in order to be certified in the state of Ohio,” Petit said. “That is just the beginning. Police K-9s and their handlers typically complete at least 16 hours of continued training each month. In all, Zoro and I have completed around 2000 hours of training.”

Zoro and Sergeant Petit completed their training through Excel K-9, located in Hiram, Ohio, under Master Trainer Paul Shaughnessy.
“Being a police K-9 handler is usually a highly coveted position within the department,” Petit said. “Typically officers with a strong interest in, and dedication to, drug interdiction are candidates for the position. However, the nature of the position requires responsibility, experience, commitment, and, of course, a love of animals. When a K-9 handler position becomes available, qualified officers go through a competitive interview process and are chosen based on merit.”
The Wadsworth Police Department has one K-9 currently. Medina County has around seven or eight police K-9s, and the Ohio State Patrol has additional dogs.

Name: Zoro
Age: 8.5 years old
Breed: German Shepard
Photo courtesy of Seth Petit.

When drug searches are conducted at the high school, the number of dogs that participate in the search varies depending on how many K-9s are available that day. It also depends on the size of the school. For a school around the size of Wadsworth High School, five to ten dogs are typically used.
When drugs or paraphernalia are found on a school campus, the school administration is alerted by the K-9 team that the police K-9s detect the odor of narcotics in a given area, such as a car, locker, or book bag.“An investigation is then conducted to determine the student responsible for the property in question and a search is typically conducted,” Petit said. “If contraband is located, the student is subject to discipline from the school in accordance with the student handbook, in addition to criminal prosecution by police.”
There are various ways for the police K-9s to show that they detect an odor.
“For narcotics detection, Zoro is trained to alert by sitting or lying down, depending on the height of the object emitting the odor, and to stare at the perceived source of the odor,” Petit said.

Although some dogs are trained to alert by barking, it is also common for them to bark because they are excited to be working.
When it is time for the police K-9s to retire, handlers do have the opportunity to purchase the dog.
“By state law, handlers have the opportunity to purchase their K-9 partner from the department for $1 upon retirement of the dog,” Petit said. “Because of the strong bond developed between the handler and their K-9 partner, this is typically what happens. However, if the handler is unable to keep their K-9 partner for some reason, the department would look for a suitable family to adopt the dog. In many cases, this is another officer or another handler who is familiar with the dog.”

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