The special, special dogs of South Dakota

Emmet the service dog, opening a power door

Emmet the service dog, opening a power door (Photo credit: Pete Markham)

AT ISSUE: To everyone who has a dog, it is special to them. I know our Coco is. That is why the title of this epistle says “special, special.” The “special, special” pooches are the many “service” dogs that are at work in our great state. They often work long hours, perhaps just for a treat or a thank you pat on the back. Today’s column is a follow-up from last week when I wrote about Braeden and his new dog trained to detect highs and lows of diabetes.

THE DEFINITION of a service dog is hard to explain. They have been “in service” almost from the time of the cave man when he trained it to do some of the more menial tasks the cave man no longer wanted to do himself. Drawings on the walls of the cave also indicated that dogs were also trained back then for protection for the cave residents and for attacking their enemies or vicious animals. Later canines became objects of worship.

But that was then and now is now. Or nearly now. The first service dog I remember was a seeing eye dog. I wasn’t very old, maybe four or five. It was in Mitchell on my way to see an eye doctor. Needless to say I was impressed when that dog brought his owner to a stop at a busy intersection.

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I had met a blind man before from Mitchell, but he just used a white stick as he traveled west on the Milwaukee train getting off at every stop, including Presho, selling brooms. He would stay over night in every little burg and then catch the train the next day.

In recalling the next time I saw service dogs at work was on a radar site in Germany. There was a double fence around the compound with five or six attack dogs in between. Needless to say, no one ever got by unless he went through the one an only gate to the site.

THE WATERTOWN Police Department is home for two drug dogs that have earned their keep time and again sniffing out drugs, both in our and area schools and in cars.

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Our seniors group at our church witnessed a demonstration seeing those two dogs at work. The two police officers who are their caretakers 24/7 buried some “weed” in a trash container. There was no hesitation both dogs sniffed it out immediately.

The first two dogs, called drug detectors, for the police department, Hondo and Turk, cost $7,300 each and were purchased in 2007 through donations from individuals, businesses and the Watertown Community Foundation. Unfortunately Hondo later died from a rare genetic disease. He was replaced in 2010 by Thera Dakota at a cost of $8,000. Turk is a German shepherd and Thera Dakota is a Malimois.

To give you an idea of their value, just in the last year these two detectors assisted police officers in seizing 10 vehicles, the drugs that were in them and $30,000 in cash.

IT WAS A FEW weeks ago there were more than 20 service dogs in town for a week’s worth of training. They were drug, bomb and patrol dogs from throughout the state belonging to police departments, county sheriff offices and the highway patrol. The local police department was the host for the school.

Then, last Tuesday I ran into the commander of the Codington County Search and Rescue, Pat Culhane. The unit has five service dogs. Four are bloodhounds and the fifth, a cadaver dog. A most interesting conversation followed.

Culhane reported that his unit was called out 301 times in 2011, a heavy load for the all-volunteer organization and its canine detectors. He added that in just the past couple of months the organization with the assistance of the cadaver dog recovered eight bodies of people who had drowned.

NO, THE CALLS weren’t just in Codington County. The unit has been called out to all of the area states and throughout South Dakota. When the volunteers and their dogs are called out of the county the unit is reimbursed, but just for their expenses.

There are just all kinds of jobs awaiting our dog friends. For example, my wife was at a Chicago international airport a few years ago and got to watch a “Green Coater” Beagle at work. A plane had just landed from Germany and since most of the passengers were German, they brought with them various cheeses, wurst and vegetables, which were illegally brought into this country. The Beagle sniffed out the food so the passengers then sat down on the floor and ate it.

Another example: A few weeks ago I saw a therapy dog with its owner in the County Fair store. The little pooch had on a red jacket and on the coat were the words, “Therapy dog.”

Research has validated what every dog owner knows. The pet can reduce our stress levels and increase our sense of well-being. Anxiety melts away and thus, the job description for a therapy dog.

Research also has found dogs to assist Alzheimer patients. An example: If the patient gets lost the dog will return him or her to their home. Also, dogs have been trained to detect some cancers in people.

So, the next time you hear the expression, ” it’s a dog’s life,” you’ll know what they can be trained for–service….

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Gordon Garnos was long-time editor of the Watertown Public Opinion, retiring after 39 years with that newspaper. Garnos, a lifelong resident of South Dakota except for his military service in the U.S. Air Force, was born and raised in Presho.
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