Reynoldsburg is harnessing the "power of the dog."

Two Belgian Malinois -- Raider and Summit -- started work in June, becoming the first K-9 officers in decades for the Reynoldsburg Division of Police.

Alongside their handlers, officers Sean McGrew (Summit) and Dan Downing (Raider), the dogs completed a 10-week training program at the Ohio State Highway Patrol K-9 facility in Marysville.

A week of testing at the end of May included memorizing information from hundreds of notecards, Downing said.

"It's like having a child with you," Downing said. "It was a lot of work -- a lot of 18-hour days -- and a lot of studying and tests."

Raider and Summit, both about 16 months old, were donated last year by the nonprofit K9s 4 America.

Ryan Venturine owns MWDK9 in Marysville, where he raises and trains working dogs. He believes every law-enforcement agency in America should employ a dog but said the startup costs often are challenging, so he launched K9s 4 America last year as a way of donating dogs.

"There should be more dogs on the streets; they are the most fantastic partner you can have," Venturine said. "Reynoldsburg will have the ability to use the power of the dog."

During their first year -- what Venturine calls the "imprinting stage" -- Raider and Summit spent most days training with Venturine, covering everything from their diets and sleep to exercise and psychology. All were monitored and tweaked.

"The first 12 to 15 months is the most important part of the dog's career. After 15 months, it's maintenance. What we're trying to do is get as close to perfection as we can," Venturine said. "They take so much wear and tear; it's like an athlete. They need recovery like people. We put them through hydrotherapy, cold compression. We do massages on the dogs so that physically and mentally they will be in the best conditions."

Because they need to be prepared to work a full-time schedule alongside their human partners, the dogs, much like children, are sleep-trained.

"I have a 3- and a 5-year-old, and I went through that process with my kids,"Venturine said. "The canines need more than a child does. A baby will tell you when they're hungry and when they're not feeling well. With the dog, they don't have the same ability. They are telling you, but they do it in other ways."

At 6 months, Raider and Summit were introduced to their future partners. About three months later, the dogs were introduced to the officers' families before eventually moving in to live with them.

"It's a 24/7 commitment to be a K-9 officer. The dog is another member of the officers' family," Venturine said.

During deployments to Afghanistan and Kuwait while in the U.S. Air Force, McGrew worked with military dogs and understood their capability.

"We used the dogs to find old explosives," he said. "When I came home, I told my wife I was going to do it. It's been a lifelong dream to be a canine handler."

McGrew said his wife, Morgan, is a "superhero" who supports his dream but admits the couple's two other dogs and 3-year-old daughter, Nora, make it a "kind of a zoo in our house."

"Summit fits right in," McGrew said. "He's still very much a puppy. He sits on the couch with my daughter and gets belly rubs.

"In the beginning, we worked Summit around (Nora) in a muzzle. Now she loves him just like one of her other dogs, but she knows he goes to work with daddy."

Teaching the dogs only is half the challenge, Venturine said.

"It's the human condition where we think we're brilliant. We always say, 'Don't let the human get in the way.' What we teach is that the dog is not a tool; it's your partner. This dog will save your life," he said. "The dogs are superheroes. That nose is bionic; their hearing is bionic; their sight is bionic. The courage of an animal -- because they're so pure and uncorrupt -- it's admirable. When I look at these dogs and see what they do, it makes me more motivated."

The dogs are training to be "dual purpose," meaning they can assist in search and apprehension and narcotics investigations, said Lt. Bill Early, who will supervise Reynoldsburg's K-9 division.

"I'm no stranger to dogs -- both of my parents are vets -- but it's been a learning experience for me. It's not as easy as going to the pet store," he said.

Reynoldsburg had two German shepherd officers in the mid-1980s, but the program was abandoned after the dogs retired.

Downing and Raider work third shift and have been called upon more than a dozen times so far. Summit has been used to track a robbery suspect and already has had "several successful narcotics sniffs on vehicles," McGrew said.

"We haven't had a dog in 24 years, so right now it's about teaching the officers what the dog is capable of," McGrew said. "It's a great resource to have."

After the department announced plans to restart its K-9 program last year, the response was overwhelming. More than $18,600 was donated to the department's K-9 fund last year, including from fellow officers, Early said.

"Dogs have become an integral part of law enforcement, but I don't think anybody ever anticipated raising $18,000," he said.

The department budgeted $66,000 this year for veterinary care, food, training, uniforms and to equip two take-home cruisers with special kennels in the backseat designed for K-9 officers as well as other safety measures.

Raider and Summit wear uniform vests identifying them as police dogs. The vests allow the dogs to carry first-aid supplies for both humans and dogs, Early said.

"They'll bring the dog to work with them and go to roll call and mark in service like any other officer," Early said. "These dogs are part of our department now."

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