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SRO Highlight: K-9 Therapy dogs

Highlighted Deputies - Ashley Peihl, Kale D. Luce and their K-9’s Kojak and Silas.


As many of us know, school resource officers wear many different hats once they become stationed at a school district. Certain students just seem to gravitate towards SRO’s who soon become mentors, counselors, and just trusted adults to vent to. Breaking through the stigma and learned prejudices that the badge carries to these students is a challenge, and sometimes takes years of work.


Two Deputies have taken it upon themselves to streamline this process. What better way to break through and develop relationships with students than with a dog. A therapy dog to be exact.



Deputy Kale Luce began his career with the Cattaraugus County Sheriff’s Office in 2012 and began his SRO Career in 2017 stationed at the Randolph Central School District. Kale heard that there was a K-9 in a school district in Erie County and began looking into the program. After 6 months of homework he was able to pitch the idea to his administration and they accepted it. “Our Sheriff is big on mental health” (Sheriff Timothy Whitcomb)explained Deputy Luce, and he didn’t think it was going to be that hard of a sale because of that.


In 2020 Deputy Luce purchased Silas, a black lab, on his own from Fox Lane Labradors in PA. Silas and Luce had a difficult time finding training due to Covid and he spent a lot of his time getting him desensitized by bringing him in public as much as he could. Eventually Luce and Silas went to Florida to the “Paws and Stripes College” which is a free to Law-enforcement therapy course. They are also trained in Law enforcement investigative therapy as well as AKC K-9 good citizen. Silas was so well behaved that he received his certifications and began working at a year old, which is not typical for therapy dogs. Once Silas turns two Luce plans on getting Silas certified by the Alliance of Therapy dogs.


Logistically Silas receives a lot of help from the community to keep him employed. Purina in Dunkirk donates the food he eats and basic medical care is covered for free by a local veterinarian office in Randolph. For any major issues there is a reserve fund made up of donations if emergencies do arise. Silas is covered under the Sheriff's Office insurance and gets to ride in a crate in the back of Luce’s take home car.


When asked how the program started and is now going Deputy Luce stated that “Immediately the first day you see a little apprehension. People started asking if they could pet them. Now walking down the hallway or a classroom, I’m almost invisible. People see him and they are so drawn to him.”


 

Deputy Ashley Peil

Ashley’s K-9 partner is named Kojak. Kojak was purchased in 2016 from a breeder in Maine who created a unique breed “Native American Indian Dog”. Ashley purchased Kojak herself and began training him on her own without any intent of having him be a working dog. Ashley took him everywhere and began desensitizing him. Eventually Ashley began doing her own research about having a therapy dog in a school. Post Parkland, there were many Florida schools that began putting dogs in their schools and she began looking there. Ashley continued doing her homework, and coincidentally at the same time Alesha Gordon out of the Sex Offender Registry division of her own county paved the way and and began working with her own K-9 Loki.


After Loki was certified, the pathway was made for Ashley to make the request to have Kojak as a therapy dog and the rest is history. Ashley and Kojak were certified in Florida the same as Deputy Luce. Ashley pays for Kojak’s food out of pocket and her county picks up the vet bills.



Ashley explains that she loves having Kojak around to break through barriers with some of the kids. She states that a few minutes with Kojak can open up dialog with juveniles who disclose things to her that they may have kept hidden without him.


The communities and districts that Kale and Ashley serve appreciate having them and their K-9 partners around. We foresee them paving the way for many more SRO programs to jump on board with this amazing program.


For more information on how to start your own K-9 SRO program please email Ashley, at ashley.piel@erie.gov. She will be more than happy to send you information and answer any questions you may have.



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