They’re official! Michigan Medicine’s first Security K-9 duo report for duty to help staff

April 7, 2020  //  FOUND IN: Our Employees,
Please note, some of the scenes from this video were filmed prior to social distancing and mask measures being implemented.

After 12 weeks of intense training, German shepherd Leo and his handler, Michigan Medicine Security Officer Paul Meyers, graduated last week from K-9 Academy Training Facility (ATF) and are now officially ready for duty.

After being selected in January to join the Michigan Medicine Security team, Leo immediately began training with Meyers at the academy. Both are now certified for “Hospital Dog and Explosive Detection” through K-9 ATF and the National Association of Professional Canine Handlers (NAPCH).

“Leo and I graduated our training and received our certificates,” said Meyers. “We tested on all our tasks and Leo performed as if he had been doing this all his life. It was truly a proud ‘dog dad’ moment.”

Now, the proud “dad” and dog are set to take on another, even more important, challenge: serving Michigan Medicine faculty and staff amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

How it all began

The idea to add a Security K-9 team stemmed from the department’s mission to reduce both risk and anxiety for patients, staff and visitors.

“We were really inspired by how other health care institutions were using dual-purpose security canines,” said Brian Uridge, director of Michigan Medicine Security. “This program offers non-traditional security outreach to de-escalate tense situations and create an added layer of protection, while providing a positive experience for patients and visitors.”

Uridge recalled how Shon Dwyer, former executive director of Michigan Medicine’s adult hospitals, got the ball rolling and found funding to support the initial start-up costs for Leo and his training.

“We’ve had overwhelming support and excitement around this project since its inception,” he said. “The Michigan Medicine K-9 Security Program is a collaboration between DPSS and Michigan Medicine, where both share in funding the program.”

Leo and Officer Paul Meyers have quickly bonded.

Selecting a handler

Choosing the right dog for the job was crucial. Before that could happen, the Security team needed to select the right handler.

“We wanted to hire an internal candidate,” said Uridge, “because we already knew we had a very talented and dedicated group of officers.”

Candidates for the position went through a panel interview, and then finalists were given the opportunity to visit the training academy and go on a ride-along with a U-M Police K-9 unit.

“We felt these were important experiences that would allow candidates to see what the job was going to be like and ask master trainers and other hospital K-9 handlers any questions they had,” Uridge said.

The candidates then went through a final round of interviews.

“Officer Meyers really impressed us with his prior outstanding work as a security officer, his verbal de-escalation skills, problem-solving abilities and his determination to make sure this new program was a success.”

The dynamic duo

Leo and Meyers will eventually spend much of their time in the adult emergency department, helping alleviate anxiety and stress for patients. Uridge said Leo is perfect for the job.

“He’s very soft, very friendly, very warm with patients, and we intentionally chose that because that’s really what we want to portray in our healing environment,” Uridge said.

“He just lays there and kind of absorbs whatever it is that you’re dealing with through the day,” said Meyers. “Once I got to see that first-hand, I really got excited about what we’re going to be able to do moving forward here.”

In addition to making the rounds to visit patients in the emergency department and other units within the adult hospitals, Leo and Meyers are also trained to detect explosive materials.

“There’s now an additional layer of having the dog here for one more piece of security and peace of mind for our staff,” said Meyers. “They know there’s a dog here that’s explosive detection trained and also here to be a shoulder to lean on if they need it.”

The calm during the crisis

In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, Leo and Meyers are currently not interacting with patients. But they are still here to help.

Staff are allowed to interact with Leo as long as they have cleaned up after going into a room. Meyers requests that people ask before petting Leo so they can discuss the situation and make sure it’s safe for everyone involved. He also noted that Leo is feeling a little shy with the recent addition of face masks.

Meyers and Leo are attending more staff meetings these days and trying to hit multiple shift start times.

“Our hope is to give front-line nurses a chance to start their shift with something good and calm,” Meyers said. “It’s one way our team can be helpful during this unusually difficult time.”

Looking ahead

“We are thrilled to be able to offer this new K-9 team to support staff, and we look forward to providing that added sense of security for patients, too, as soon as it is safe to do that,” said Uridge.

Uridge and Meyers are both excited to offer this unique outreach within the Michigan Medicine community.

“The K-9 team is part of our overall security strategy,” said Uridge, who strongly believes that making employees, staff and visitors feel safe is just as important is making sure they are safe.

“Instead of an enforcement-based mode, let’s focus on how we can spend three minutes being compassionate,” he said. “By doing that, we can help build a stronger, more secure community where everyone feels safe and welcome. Leo and Officer Meyers are here to do just that.”

Can’t get enough of Leo? Check out how the K-9 is getting along with another new member of Michigan Medicine, police officer Theo Chalogianis!