By Sue Botos
No one seemed to mind when the newest member of the Rocky River police force interrupted a recent City Council meeting, bounding down a side aisle of the council chambers.
Mayor Pam Bobst remarked that she wouldn’t perform the traditional swearing-in of this particular officer. Instead, she scooped up the 9-week-old German shepherd puppy as council members and the audience became paparazzi, snapping pictures of Apollo, who was accompanied by his partner, Patrolman Nate Gonzales.
Apollo joins 8-month-old Diego, handled by Patrolman Matt Rodriguez, to form the city’s K-9
unit. Both dogs are grandsons of Rylo, Rocky River’s first K-9 dog, who passed away a little over two weeks ago. Apollo is the fifth dog to serve in the unit, which was founded in 2003 by Rylo’s partner, Patrolman Garth Selong.
“My parents had small dogs, but this is the first one of my own,” said Gonzales, a three-year member of the police department. Based on family characteristics, Apollo, now just a handful, could top out at around 100 pounds.
After an extensive selection process, which included the submission of a letter of intent and resume, plus an oral interview with a panel consisting of Chief Kelly Stillman, Lt. Bill Crates and Selong, Gonzales was chosen from several applicants as the next K-9 handler.
Gonzales then traveled to Macedonia and the facility of noted police dog breeder Tom Schmidt, where a litter fathered by Rylo’s son, Iceman, had just been born. Rylo’s legacy will live on, as Iceman has sired five police dogs, including the Cleveland Metroparks’ Gambit and Rico.
Schmidt leads an organization called BARK – Buckeye Area Regional K-9 – which donates dogs, German shepherds and Belgian Malinois, plus all training free of charge to area law enforcement agencies adding to or beginning a K-9 unit. Bobst stated that the approximately $6,000 in the budget for the unit is comprised of donations from individuals and businesses. Part of the proceeds from the annual dog swim, which caps off the season at the city outdoor pool, also goes to the unit.
As with his predecessors, Apollo is learning his commands in German, beginning with the basics. “He’s been training since he was 6 weeks old. So far he understands ‘sit,’” Gonzales said. After about two months, Apollo will begin training to become a state-certified police dog. The new partners, as well as Rodriguez and Diego, work with Schmidt once a week, and will continue to do so throughout their careers.
A police dog serves an average of 10 years, depending on health and stamina. After retirement, they continue to live with their partner as a family pet.
Drug detection is the first step toward K-9 certification, which also requires tracking plus other offensive and defensive skills. Unlike police dog portrayals on TV, the dogs are not trained to attack, but rather to hold and detain a suspect with a bite, which, according to police, is a last-case scenario. According to police, it takes a minimum of 240 hours of training to file for certification, and 390 hours for patrol duty.
Gonzales is looking forward to working with Apollo, who seemed fairly laid-back, even yawning a few times during his City Council debut. “He’s quiet now, but at home he’s all over the place,” his partner said.