OhioHealth Pilot Pup Keeps Paws off Illegal Narcotics
OhioHealth protective services officer James Kee always wanted to become a K9 handler. A career in law enforcement gave him an appreciation for the added level of awareness a canine partner brings to the work.
In July, Kee's dream came true when he became the first-ever OhioHealth K9 officer and handler of Rudy – a furry, two-year-old Belgian Malinois who immigrated to Columbus all the way from Holland to help detect and deter illegal narcotics at OhioHealth Riverside Methodist Hospital. Together, Kee and Rudy form the hospital's Narcotic K9 unit.
But, it's more than just Kee's wish.
The widespread reach of Ohio's opioid crisis has created an uneasiness among physicians, nurses and associates at Riverside Methodist who engage with patients and visitors, any of whom might be under the influence of narcotics, carrying needles or possessing illicit drugs.
"We heard from associates last year who shared these concerns and we took them seriously," said Anthony Bando, director of Protective Services at Riverside Methodist. "The safety of our associates, patients and visitors is a top priority, and adding the K9 unit is another tool for our highly-trained team to ensure a safe environment."
The OhioHealth Foundation funded this pilot experience, which has the potential to expand to other care sites, if successful.
Rudy was carefully selected to fit the needs of a hospital environment. In addition to being highly skilled, he needed to be friendly and interact well with people, which can be a rare pairing of personality traits.
"We looked at several vendors across the country who specialize in K9 units and selected a local organization, Storm Dog Tactical, based in Sunbury, Ohio," said Bando. "They looked at our culture, took into consideration our core values and figured out the kind of dog we needed."
"As soon as he hops out of the cruiser, he's working," said Kee. "He's another officer on the job who is highly trained and searching for narcotics."
Rudy's work includes roaming the hallways and entrances of the hospital and engaging people. But when and where you see him may be a surprise.
"We are going to be as random as possible, otherwise people will learn our patterns," said Kee. "We want to be predictably unpredictable."
But sniffing out narcotics isn't Rudy's only task. He also plays an important role in making people comfortable talking about opioids. Sometimes, it begins with a pat on the head.
"Because of Rudy, we're going to be able to discuss the opioid problem in our community and educate people," said Bando.
When Rudy's shift ends, he hops back into the cruiser to share french fries with Kee and talk out their day on the way home. There, he's just another member of the family, joining Kee's wife, two kids, a lazy golden retriever and a German shepherd mix.
"I thought our shepherd was high-strung until Rudy joined the family. He never stops," said Kee.
He says Rudy is a great fit for his family, and their bond is so strong, Rudy won't let him out of his sight.
"I didn't know how in-depth this really was," admitted Kee. "It's so much deeper than what people see. He's my partner and will always have my back, and yet I also get to bring my favorite pet to work. I'm grateful for the experience."
This story was originally published in an internal OhioHealth associate publication.