Most of us have a special place in our hearts for our pets, and they easily become members of our families. The same can be said of the working dogs in our communities. They quickly establish a place in the hearts of those they interact with during their jobs. Arco and Marymae are two such dogs—fantastic in their individual fields, different as night and day, yet they are no less important or invaluable to those they serve.
3 1/2 Years
Protecting Our Community
Arco is an impressive and awesome sight to behold. He has been the canine partner of Officer Bryan Albers of the Meridian Police Department for the past two years. Officer Albers himself has been handling dogs since 2007.
Early Saturday morning, I met Officer Albers at the training field of the Meridian Police Department, and while we exchanged a handshake, I could hear the deep, intimidating bark and feel the presence of Arco from inside the vehicle.
When Officer Albers opened the back door to the SUV, the German shepherd jumped out of the car and ran around the field sniffing and barking; he knew it was time to train and have some fun. When Arco finally came up to inspect me, he was like any other dog—friendly, inquisitive and wanting to get as many scratches behind his ears as possible.
Then Officer Albers brought out The Blue Ball. The change that came over Arco was immediate and intense. He had razor-like focus as he moved without breaking eye contact with what he wanted, listening without hesitation to what Albers was telling him to do. Playtime was over. Now it was time to work. The excitement to do just that was present everywhere in this dog from his whine to get started to his salivating, ready barks and light, quick steps. He was prepared.
Officer Albers threw the ball across the field, and Arco waited at his feet, energy gathering beneath his paws. When he was given the command to get the ball, Arco exploded across the grass toward his prize, attention finely tuned to what he wanted but also to what his handler commanded. He brought the ball back and gave loud, excited barks until Officer Albers threw it again. When Arco was halfway across the field, Officer Albers shouted out a command and Arco stopped dead, eyes still trained on the ball, adrenaline and excitement tangible as he waited to be given permission to continue the chase. Officer Albers shouted for Arco to keep going, and when his nose was inches from the ball, Officer Albers told him to stop, leave the ball and come back to us. Without hesitation, Arco did just that. At our feet again, he turned and locked on the ball, waiting excitedly for permission to go again.
Arco is a dual purpose K9, meaning that he is trained in both narcotics detection and in suspect apprehension. He has gone through intensive and extensive training and testing to get to where he is today. To become a police K9, the dogs must naturally and consistently show drive, courage and the instinct to hunt. Not all dogs pass, but the ones who do are an invaluable asset to our police departments and to us.
“We ask a lot of the dogs, and they do a lot.”
As of now, the Meridian Police Department has five K9 teams with the hopes of adding more in the near future. The dogs are an important factor in helping to keep our streets safer. They are able to do things that humans can’t. They can detect narcotics, bombs and people hiding. Sometimes they’re all the incentive a suspect needs in order to turn themselves in, preventing a dangerous situation from getting worse because they would rather not deal with a dog coming after them. That keeps the officers, suspect, dog and anyone else caught up in the situation, safe.
But they’re also an additional friendly face of the police department. Animals have always been a bridge or an extended hand between people, especially strangers. Individuals are more likely to smile at someone walking a dog, give a friendly hello or even start up a conversation. The same is true with police dogs.
“A lot of people don’t know how to interact with us because we’re in uniform, but if I show up to peoples’ house or a business with my dog, it’s kind of the bridge between us and the community. I can talk to some guy who’s been arrested numerous times—he’s got a dog, and he’ll want to talk to me about dogs, and it’s a huge ice breaker."
They also help kids feel safe and can temporarily distract them from a bad situation. The K9 officers create a connection and open the channels for conversation, respect and understanding that may not be there otherwise between all participating parties.
It’s extremely important to maintain a strong but approachable presence at community events, and that’s why the Meridian K9 unit can usually be found at most of them. At least one team is at every community block party, and they attend some school assemblies, National Night Out and Red Ribbon Week. They also host Boy Scout and Girl Scout troops at the police department for demonstrations.
So the next time you see Officer Albers and Arco (or any officer or K9 team), don’t forget to thank them for their service, and don’t be afraid to start a conversation. A simple, “I have a dog, too,” is a good start. Arco probably wouldn’t mind a very durable chew toy either.
Serving Our Community
Marymae is quite the opposite of Arco—she is completely relaxed and calm. Diane Rampelberg owns Dustin’s Paw, a nonprofit organization that provides enhanced therapy activities for disabled children and adults with the help of Marymae.
Diane’s heart and love for helping those with disabilities is abundantly clear. She has been in the world of teaching for many years, and a lot of those years were spent working with special education children. When her son graduated from high school and took on the project of training a canine companion, Diane witnessed what the dogs could do and the connection they had with kids.
“I can use this,” she had said. “I can get what I want done using the dogs, and we would all be a lot happier.”
It takes a special dog to do what Marymae does. They must be other-directed. They can’t desire to be the center of attention. They must remain focused, patient and stable. They’re around a lot of different situations that would make other dogs nervous, distracted or even a little aggressive. They have to remain focused and calm and continue to help the children. Most importantly, they have to be smart—all dogs from Canine Companions must have at least 45 commands under their belt when they leave school. That's their foundation for their handler to build on.
Dustin’s Paw does so much more than visit patients in the hospital. Marymae helps children with mobility issues, eating difficulties, social interactions and more. Diane has many reasons to love her job.
“[It] takes my skills as a teacher, my special ed skills, and the occupational therapists can come to me with their needs, and I can create activities with the dogs that match up with that.”
The dogs and children play games that help strengthen coordination, vision, strength and fine-motor skills. These dogs can make connections with the kids and build trust, love and friendships that they may not have made with another human. Most of the time, the dogs can get the kids to do things they wouldn’t otherwise do on their own.
“I have kids that don’t want to get out of the car and come in, and so the dogs will go out and get them out of the car and bring them in,” Diane says.
“The thrill of the kids actually getting to do things and to stop crying and to laugh…The laughter is just priceless.”
Even though Marymae works 40 hours a week and has more than 200 patients during that time, each one holds a place in her heart. Therapy dogs like Marymae offer comfort and confidence. They help the kids conquer fears, and they give them the ability to do things they haven’t been able to do before.
Check out DustinsPaw.org to see how Marymae and Diane help our community.