By Sue Botos
The newest member of the Rocky River police department caused quite a stir, and more than one comment of “Aww!” when he made an appearance before a recent City Council meeting.
The grandson of a current officer, he posed for pictures with Mayor Pam Bobst and visited with some young audience members. No one seemed to mind when he chewed on a visitor’s shoes or the fingers of his partner, Patrolman Matthew Rodriguez – no doubt because Diego is a 7-week-old German shepherd dog.
“I want to thank City Council and the mayor for this opportunity. I really appreciate it,” Rodriguez told council. Although he said this will be a “huge commitment,” Rodriguez is looking forward to his work with Diego, the grandson of current K-9 patrol dog, 8-year-old Rylo, who is partnered with Officer Garth Selong.
Diego’s brother Gambit has just joined the Cleveland Metroparks’ K-9 unit.
A five-year member of the Rocky River Police Department, Rodriguez told West Life he loves animals and has always had a dog, but after completing his police training, decided to hold off on getting a pet in case the opportunity to become a K-9 officer came along. “The K-9 work has always interested me aside from police work alone,” he stated.
The interview process was extensive and included the submission of a letter of intent and resume, evaluation by Selong and an oral interview with a panel consisting of Chief Kelly Stillman, Lt. Bill Crates and Selong.
After being selected from several applicants, Rodriguez traveled to noted police dog breeder Tom Schmidt’s facility in Macedonia, where a litter fathered by one of Rylo’s sons had recently been born.
Of the seven pups, Rodriguez said it was easy to find his future partner. “He was really energetic and he gravitated toward me,” he recalled.
Rodriguez noted that Schmidt leads an organization called “BARK” – Buckeye Area Regional K-9 – which donates dogs, German shepherds and Belgian Malinois, and all training free of charge to area police departments adding to or beginning a K-9 unit. In an earlier interview, Stillman stated the city’s K-9 unit is not truly a budget item for the department, and that much of the $2,000 yearly fund is donated. Bobst said that the most recent class of the Citizen Police Academy donated $1,035.
Training began on day one for the new partners, with basic obedience. After about two months, Diego will begin training to become a state-certified police dog. Rodriguez and Diego are working with Schmidt once a week, and will continue to do so throughout Diego’s career, which could span about 10 years, depending on the dog’s health and stamina. After retirement, Diego will continue to live with his partner as a pet.
Rodriguez said Diego will be trained to detect drugs, do tracking work and perform other “offensive and defensive skills.”
“There are different types of certification. Usually drug detection is quicker,” said Rodriguez. He added that while “bite work” is a major part of the repertoire, the dogs are not trained to attack, but rather to detain a suspect.
“Bite work is an offensive and defensive tool used as a last case scenario,” said Rodriguez, adding that, while Diego is easily scooped up now, he will probably reach a weight of 80 to 100 pounds. Bred from West German bloodlines, his commands are, fittingly, being learned in German.
Rodriguez said he is looking at next February for Diego’s full certification. Aside from regular police work, the partners will join Selong and Rylo as ambassadors, attending fundraisers and visiting schools.
“I’m really looking forward to this experience. It will be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” Rodriguez said.