As we head into the dog days of summer, I wanted to give a little attention to one particular group within our extended County family. They work like dogs – because they are.
Yes, dogs fill a variety of roles for us here, some well-known, others more surprising. It takes a lot of talents combined to do the County’s business, and while you all do amazing work, there are some ways you just can’t compete with our canine colleagues.
We love our furry friends just for being themselves. But understanding some of the ways dogs help us help the public, you may love them that much more. Let me give a few examples.
For a decade now, the District Attorney’s Office has been providing comfort dogs to witnesses testifying in court. It’s often for child victims having to recount traumatic experiences. The Court Dogs are right there with them on the witness stand, helping make the process as manageable as possible. The dogs are therapy dogs, and their handlers are all volunteers. In recent years, they’ve been on hand for more than 100 witnesses a year.
We’re using dogs’ remarkable noses to help guard against agricultural pests. The Department of Agriculture, Weights and Measures has a couple detector dogs they use to sniff around mailing centers for packages containing fruits, vegetables or other plants. Those can carry pests or diseases that could mean disaster for local growers, so it’s critical we stop them before entering the area. This past fiscal year, detector dogs alerted inspectors to over 350 parcels with plants, with 34 interceptions of harmful pests.
Several of our County Library branches have programs that bring in dogs and let children read to them. Some kids are nervous about reading aloud. Dogs accept us as we are – our favorite trait of theirs – and don’t mind if we have trouble with difficult words. So by reading to the dogs, children can practice and gain confidence in their ability.
Our Medical Examiner, Dr. Glenn Wagner, has a German shepherd named Romeo that helps with the department’s unfortunate but essential work of finding and recovering human remains. He’s also trained to sniff out drugs. Romeo has assisted both the ME’s office and outside agencies. And, bonus points, Dr. Wagner adopted Romeo from County Animal Services.
Our approach to juvenile justice has changed dramatically in recent years. We now understand that many of the young people who get into trouble come from difficult or even traumatic circumstances. Putting them on the road to future success includes addressing emotional needs. One way we do that is to have regular visits from therapy dogs at juvenile hall. The dogs are a calming, comforting presence, and as you would expect, the program is very popular with the youths.
Everybody’s familiar with the Sheriff’s K-9s. The department has 31 dogs in the unit. They all go through an initial 12-week training, then train for 16 hours each month. They protect their deputy partners, track suspects, search for evidence and detect drugs. Most of the K-9s work up to 10 years, then after retirement, stay with their handlers.
Also with Sheriff, but a distinct unit, is the Search and Rescue K-9 Unit. These are the dogs of volunteers, and both handlers and dogs go through extensive training to be part of the team. They can be called in to search for missing persons. They also have the grim task of finding human remains after a natural disaster or help solve murder cases. They are ready to respond 24/7 to a variety of circumstances and help not just the Sheriff but other law enforcement agencies anywhere in the country.
When off duty, the unit’s leader, Pam Medhurst, visits local libraries and schools to give a safety presentation to help prevent kids from getting lost. It's called Don't Run Around, Stay Found. Her best pal Simon and her beagle Banjo engage children of all ages.
The Sheriff's Department also has a Goodwill Ambassador in Teddy the Goldendoodle. With his owner, Sergeant Daniel Sloppye, they read to children at local libraries and represent the agency at community events.
Teddy even helped us get the word out about the importance of making pets part of your emergency preparedness plans.
Our County workforce is large and accomplished. But we’re clear we can’t do everything our customers need alone. We need partners of all kinds to make the collective impact we want, and dogs are part of that network, filling unique roles and helping us unleash – yes, I said it – our full potential.
If all this has left you thinking of adding a pet partner of your own, don’t forget our Animal Services. They have lots of dogs, cats and more waiting for forever homes.
Let’s give a hand, and a paw, to our canine colleagues and their handlers for their contributions. And thanks to all of you for your dogged efforts in serving our customers. Whether you’re at Dog Beach or other relaxing spot of your choice, I hope you’re enjoying summer in San Diego.