By Sue Botos
The physical demands of police work can take their toll, and a four-legged officer is not an exception. So after 10 years of service, Rylo, the first member of the city’s K-9 unit, will hang up his collar at the end of the year.
“He’s showing his age and it showed up quickly, especially in the last three months,” noted Rylo’s handler, Patrolman Garth Selong. He said compressed discs in the dog’s back, due to a combination of age and work, had a “huge impact” on the decision to retire Rylo, who has served the K-9 unit since he was about 6 weeks old.
A K-9’s career lasts an average of 10 years, and Selong said that Rylo had been closely monitored over the past few months. By the time October rolled around, Selong realized that it was time for his partner to retire.
“Chief (Kelly) Stillman and Lt. (Bill) Crates have been very receptive as to how to work with him,” Selong stated. He added that a post-holiday retirement was chosen to better ease Rylo into the routine of civilian life.
“We knew this would come to an end,” said Selong, who originated the city’s K-9 unit in 2003. After serving as a patrolman for three years, he approached then–Sgt. Crates with the idea. With the backing of former police Chief Donald Wagner, Rylo was donated by noted German shepherd dog breeder Tom Schmidt. Along with his wife Kathy, Schmidt heads up B.A.R.K. (Buckeye Area Regional K-9), which provides dogs and weekly training to area K-9 units free of charge.
Looking back on his career with Rylo, Selong recalled working with other cities and assisting in numerous discoveries of drugs in vehicles. This is one area of law enforcement, Selong noted, where dogs play an essential role. He added that K-9s are routinely put into situations that would be high risk to an officer.
“The dog’s life is not unimportant; they are a member of the family,” said Selong, whose three children have grown up with Rylo. However, he added, it is easier to replace a dog than its human counterpart.
One of the most enjoyable aspects of working with the K-9 unit, according to Selong, is the role of ambassador, visiting schools and speaking with the public. “I loved going to the schools. We must have visited over 30 classes at the middle school,” Selong recalled. In fact, Rylo was named during a contest, by St. Thomas School fifth-grader Emily Kirshner.
Selong seems content to turn over the leash and be the “go-to guy” for the next generation of K-9 patrolmen, Matt Rodriguez and Nate Gonzalez. They are partnered with Rylo’s grandsons–Diego, 8 months, and Apollo, 8 weeks.
“I was offered a spot in the program and another dog, but my life and my family are in a different place right now,” Selong said. He added that it would “try his family’s sanity” to have two nearly 100-pound dogs in the house.
“My wife isn’t really a dog person. She put up with this because it’s important to me,” he said, adding that his children have loved having Rylo around.
Selong explained that the city pays for veterinarian care and food for the K-9 unit. However, a number of community organizations, such as the Citizen Police Academy, have made donations. Some of the proceeds from the annual dog swim, which closes out the outdoor pool season, also benefit the unit.
While Rylo will live a life of leisure as a family pet, Selong will go back to regular police work. He is optimistic that the work he began 10 years ago will continue. “I know the program is important to the mayor and to the chief. I hope it goes on forever,” he said.”