Officer Tim Woodyard and Officer Alex spend most mornings walking through Baker University Center side by side — with Alex’s tail happily wagging back and forth.
It seems the only instance that would separate the two is the impending retirement of one of the officers.
The bomb dogs that serve the Ohio University Police Department, Alex, a black labrador retriever, and Brody, a Belgian malinois, have it written in their contract that they can be bought for $1 when the dog is at retirement age. If the handler retires before that age, a newly proposed Ohio State Senate bill hopes to keep officers and K9s across the state together.
“We shouldn’t be treating a dog, … an animal that has a strong bond with the officer who’ve been out on the street together, like any other piece of property,” Sen. Lou Gentile, D-Steubenville and primary sponsor of the bill, said.
The proposed bill would allow Woodyard, an OUPD officer and dog handler, to purchase Alex at fair market value if Alex is still eligible to work for the K9 unit at that time.
In a case in Marietta, Police Officer Matthew Hickey wanted to purchase his 5-year-old dog, Ajax, after he retired.
Hickey was told by city officials that he’d need to buy Ajax if he wanted to keep him after retirement. According toThe Columbus Dispatch, Hickey and the city were told by a local police dog trainer that Ajax was valued $3,500. Police Chief Robert Hupp would not accept that offer.
The legislation also would allow police officers to purchase a mounted unit horse in the same circumstances.
“The K9 officer has a special bond with the officer,” Gentile said. “We recognize that, and we’re going to go ahead and acknowledge that.”
Athens, Ohio University K9 units cost approximately $14,500 annually
Despite the price tag, local law enforcement believes K9 units are essential for keeping Athens safe.
Feasibly, Woodyard said he can retire in about seven years, at which point Alex, who is 3 years old, would retire too.
“Handlers and dogs have a different kind of relationship,” Woodyard said. “They’ll typically follow you around the house.”
Alex follows closely behind Woodyard when they’re at home. If Alex goes outside, he wants Woodyard to follow. If Alex goes outside alone, he doesn’t like to be alone for too long, Woodyard said.
“He wants to be where his handler is,” Woodyard said.
If Woodyard does retire before Alex, Woodyard said he’s not sure whether it would be best for Alex to stop working.
“These dogs are highly motivated. They have a lot of drive,” Woodyard said. “They want to work. That’s why they’re selected.”
In their youth, the type of dogs who become bomb dogs have a very specific personality.
When a Columbus kennel found Alex, it called the Columbus Bomb Squad and said it had a pup that might be fit to become a bomb dog. Dogs that are a little unruly and think they’re the alpha type often become bomb dogs like Alex, Woodyard said.
“He is a highly trained officer,” Woodyard said. “You see him when he’s working and he is happy.”
When a dog reaches its senior age, around 8 or 10 years old, Woodyard said it’s not beneficial to send the dog to someone else because they won’t get much out of it.
Woodyard said that primarily, Alex is a tool for OUPD. His trips to football games and concerts are to make sure the humans around him are safe, Woodyard said.
OUPD’s new four-legged recruit begins its duty
OUPD now has two bomb-sniffing dogs on its force.
When there isn’t an event for Alex to sniff around at, he’s in a constant state of training, Woodyard said. Each day, Alex and Woodyard go to different places on campus and the community where odors associated with explosives are placed. When Alex detects the odor, he receives a reward of some Kibble.
“At night, you still have a lot to do,” Woodyard said.
Before his dinner, Alex smells the explosive odor and eats out of Woodyard’s hand.
Winding down after a day of work, Alex curls up next Woodyard’s daughter in her bedroom.
“He’s just kind of a regular dog,” Woodyard said. “He loves my wife and my kids.”