By Abby Baughan, December 2018
Follow me along for a day in the life of Ohio State Highway Patrol dual-purpose K9, Katie, and her handler, Tpr. Matt Ruth.
On the morning of October 29, I met Tpr. Ruth and K9 Katie at the West Jefferson Post for a day of shadowing. Upon my arrival, Tpr. Ruth took me inside the post to show me around. He and Katie had just finished seizing marijuana from two individuals who traveled to the west coast, purchased it legally, and then illegally brought it back to Ohio.
Tpr. Ruth showed me the steps that have to take place after drugs, specifically marijuana, are seized. He placed the pre-packaged marijuana in an evidence bag and moved on to entering everything into the computer system.
While Tpr. Ruth was finishing up the technical work, I sat patiently waiting to meet the star of the show. He finished up and took me outside to his Patrol vehicle. He opened up the back door and, on his command, Katie hopped out to greet me. She trotted over to me and I excitedly said, “Hi Katie!” and gave her a pat on the head.
Katie is a 3-year-old Belgian Malinois weighing in at just under 50 pounds. She was smaller than I expected, but it didn’t take long to realize that her size pays off when it comes to speed and agility.
Katie showed me some of her impressive obedience commands before we got into their vehicle and headed out on patrol. This gave Tpr. Ruth and me a great opportunity to talk more about Katie as well as his experience as a handler.
Katie and Tpr. Ruth cover all of Columbus District 6, which includes Marion, Morrow, Union, Delaware, Madison, Franklin, Fayette and Pickaway Counties. They commute about an hour each morning to get to work.
"I first became a canine handler to help be some of the first line of defense in the narcotics flowing into our local communities."
Tpr. Ruth became a handler in 2010, motivated by his desire to be directly involved with criminal interdiction. Katie became his second canine when she was assigned to him in 2017. He was assigned his first dog, Bento, a male Malinois, in 2010. Bento retired in 2017 and now lives at home with Tpr. Ruth, Katie and their family.
"He’s retired from active duty on the Patrol. He basically stays home, plays with the kids and watches the house while I’m at work."
Canines are typically in service for seven to nine years. When the Patrol decides it is time for them to retire, it is very typical for their handlers to take them home as pets. At that point, the handler assumes all responsibility for the dog.
Handlers often find their canines still want to go to work after retirement because, when they were in service, it was their favorite part of the day. Retirement can be a great time to allow canines the chance to be "normal" dogs and be less work-oriented.
The bond between Tpr. Ruth and Katie is something truly special. She’s always looking for him and awaiting his next command. This bond is established during training and lasts throughout the canine's lifetime.
Once we got back to the post, Tpr. Ruth had Katie sit outside of his Patrol vehicle so I could get some photos and videos. He stood behind me, and Katie moved her head from one side to other to see around me. She had to keep an eye on him. This type of bond between a handler and canine makes for a trusting relationship that allows them to work together at their full potential.
Before we said our goodbyes for the day, Katie got some time to exercise and play. She played fetch with Tpr. Ruth, running after a red Kong toy attached to a rope. She patiently waited by his side before each toss, and went after the toy with incredible speed and agility as soon as it left his hand. Even during play time, Katie was disciplined and obedient. I was glad to see that play and exercise are incorporated into Katie’s work days.
Training & Maintenance
A couple weeks later, I attended one of Katie’s training sessions. Katie and Tpr. Ruth do regular maintenance checks throughout each month to make sure they are on track. They checked things like traffic stops with and without narcotics, simulated bites, and tracking. Katie tracks paths, and was successfully able to track down items Tpr. Ruth placed in various locations in a large field. It was clear to me in this moment that Katie is extremely determined and work-oriented. She doesn’t give up until she finds what she’s looking for.
"Katie and many of the division’s canines are often called by federal, state and local authorities to assist in situations they have, such as manhunts, robberies, burglaries, or general narcotic sniffs, or just assistance with search warrants as a force multiplier."
It amazed me how far Patrol canines can go in such a short time, and how quickly they learn. The new training program, implemented in 2015, allows canines and handlers to train alongside one another rather than receiving already-trained canines from outside agencies.
By the time she graduated from the Patrol's initial ten week training program, Katie knew everything she needed to know to be a Patrol canine and Tpr. Ruth knew everything he needed to know to be her handler. Now that she has completed training, her monthly maintenance checks allow her to polish her skills and keep improving.
Katie is a happy and healthy canine with a bright future ahead of her. Tpr. Ruth is an experienced handler who understands what it takes to make Katie the best she can be. They make the perfect team.