This week I had a most exciting opportunity. I was invited to speak to a group of children (ages 5 to 11) about dog training and, in particular, police dogs.
I have given police dog demonstrations to children in the past but this group was special. The children are part of an organization called "Women and Children in Recovery" and had all come from backgrounds of parental drug abuse.
I was hesitant at first since my talks are usually about narcotics detection dogs. The supervisor assured me that the anti-drug message was exactly what was needed, so I agreed.
I began by explaining that police dogs are friends to children and that they help to keep drugs and criminals from harming them. I spoke briefly about training and then showed a video of a police dog in action. Then, I brought in my dog "Otto" and demonstrated a narcotics search where I had hidden some pseudo-narcotic formulation in a locker. The children were amazed when they saw how eagerly he scratched at the locker to tell me something was there.
K-9 trainer Bill Reitz with the kids' favorite, Otto
I then invited them to come up and pet my dog. They were very nervous and some were frightened. I assured them that it was safe to approach him. After the first youngster came forward and was eagerly accepted, the rest of them swarmed my dog. There was one young girl that was still terrified. The director carried her up and she very slowly stretched out her hand. As soon as she did, my dog raised up and licked her face. This little girl smiled and laughed. It touched the hearts of everyone in the building!
I ended my presentation by telling them that as long as they stayed free of drugs, they could be anything they want to be in life. I told them to keep focused, stay away from drugs and crime, and strive for their dreams.
My reward for all of this was seeing 30 faces filled with hope in spite of their circumstances. I left knowing that all the hours spent on the training field was worth it if one child was spared from the evils of drugs.
Author Bill Reitz is a professional dog trainer for law enforcement at his Rätzelplatz K-9 Training Centre.