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K-9 brings ‘Grace’ to University Circle Police Department

Posted August 22, 2023 in Articles

Author: Nate Flauto

CLEVELAND, Ohio -- Meet Grace, the University Circle Police Department’s community policing dog.

On Aug. 5, the University Circle Police Department (UCPD) welcomed a new member to its ranks. Grace, a community policing K-9, was donated to the department by her trainer, Northeast Ohio resident Rick Seyler.

Grace is the first dog of her kind to join the department and is one of a few K-9s in Ohio that share a similar purpose. The 4-month-old yellow Labrador retriever is on duty with her handler, 15-year UCPD veteran Sgt. Kurt Keeper.

Similar to a traditional law enforcement K-9, community policing K-9s are sworn in to their police departments and receive a badge.

However, Grace and other community policing dogs are not trained to pursue criminal activity. They are not taught to chase down suspects, nor are they trained to smell for drugs, bombs or people.

Rather, they are raised to be service dogs, whose role is to provide emotional support to the communities and departments where they work.

Seyler, of Silver Bullet K9 Service Ministry, is a self-described animal behaviorist who has spent the last three decades training dogs to accompany people, primarily fellow armed services veterans experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), as service animals.

Seyler finds, trains and donates service dogs to those in need at no cost. He also boards the animals for his clients whenever their human companion is away or re-trains the dogs if they need to brush up on their skills.

Seyler told cleveland.com in an interview that UCPD Chief Thomas Wetzel had asked Seyler for a community policing dog after the two had worked together to bring such a service K-9 – Angel -- to the Richmond Heights Police Department when Wetzel was chief there.

Once Seyler got the go-ahead, he trained Grace for two months to the department’s goal of getting her introduced to the community by summer’s end.

“Every weekend, we went to the (police) station to train with Sgt. Keeper,” Seyler said. “We went into Little Italy and trained her in the environment that she would be working in.”

Wetzel said he wanted a community policing dog for the UCPD after having seen the positive impact Angel had at his former department.

He said Grace will accompany UCPD officers on patrol, attend youth outreach programs, visit hospitals and attend community events.

According to her trainer, Seyler, and her handler, Keeper, Grace is to work a 12-hour shift alongside the sergeant, with incremental breaks for rest and play.

“She goes where I go,” Keeper said. “If a victim needs comforting, she will be there to help them out.”

In addition to supporting community members in times of crisis, Grace offers the department a way to connect with the residents they serve.

Having Grace on duty is an avenue for the department and residents to establish a rapport outside of law enforcement, whether she is patrolling a beat with Keeper or working at events such as Wade Oval Wednesdays or at the Feast of the Assumption, where Grace made her first major public debut.

“The feast was very successful. On Sunday, she was pet hundreds of times,” Keeper said. “It probably took us over an hour to get over the (Murray) Hill.”

While on patrol with Keeper and Police Officer Joe Fazio during the Aug. 16 Wade Oval Wednesday, Grace was recognized and drew the attention of adults and children alike.

Fazio shared that during the event, they were able to engage with families whose curious young children had the opportunity to meet a police dog for the first time, since traditional K-9 units cannot engage with the public.

“It has been really nice to see the warm welcome she’s had since we’ve gotten her,” Fazio said.

After she had met a group of students from the nearby Hawken School, it was clear that Grace would be a useful asset to the department in their efforts to be better connected to the community.

Outside of her patrolling duties, Grace being in the department also provides a morale boost to the officers. Both Keeper and Fazio were in agreement that having Grace at the station alleviates some of the pressure that comes with the job.

“With Grace coming into the department, I’ve seen a change in the officers,” Fazio said. “When she comes in, everyone’s face turns into a smile and the guys start talking to her in a high-pitched, sweet voice.

Added Keeper, “When she’s off leash at the station, she’ll go to each officer and greet them.”

Keeper says the experience so far has been memorable and that he is looking forward to his and Grace’s shared future.

Original Article: https://www.cleveland.com/community/2023/08/k-9-brings-grace-to-university-circle-police-department.

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